BEACON FALLS — Woodland diver Riley Clark knew the Naugatuck Valley League 1-meter diving championship would come down to the last dive.
Clark, a sophomore, was keeping track of his scores during the championship March 1 at Woodland Regional High School. He was paying really close attention as Sacred Heart senior Ben Gomes prepared for his final dive.
After Gomes’ final score was posted, it hit Clark that he had taken home the title.
“I was kind of surprised because I knew I was next to [Gomes], but he did really well on his last dive,” Clark said. “I wasn’t 100 percent confident.”
Clark tallied 394.45 points in 11 dives to edge out Gomes, who scored 393.40 points.
Fifteen divers competed for the title. Kaynor Tech sophomore Matheus Silva, who trains with Wilby, finished with the highest score (398.85 points), but was competing as an exhibition diver, preventing his scores from counting.
Clark, who finished fifth as a freshman last year, started diving competitively as an eighth-grader at Long River Middle School. It’s the feeling of accomplishment that attracted him to the diving board.
“After every dive, if you do it very well, you feel like you accomplished something,” Clark said. “It’s just really cool in general, too.”
Clark, who set the school diving record three times this season, attributed his success to Woodland diving coach Doug Mariano and his demanding coaching style that doesn’t leave room for slacking off.
“That’s not an option with him,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t know like three or four of the dives I know now if it wasn’t for him.”
Mariano said he has seen Clark grow physically and mentally from his freshman to sophomore year. But, what Mariano likes most about is pupil this year is his determination, which was on display last week.
Clark almost failed his fifth dive, a front somersault full twist, but didn’t let it affect his final six dives, Mariano said.
“He came right back and showed fortitude,” Mariano said. “He could’ve lost the meet on that one dive, but he didn’t let it get to him. He came right back and he nailed every single dive after that.”
Clark’s diving title set the Hawks off on the right foot for the NVL boys swim championship meet March 3 at Kennedy High School in Waterbury. Woodland finished eighth overall in the 12-team field with 337 points.
“Overall, I think we worked hard and we did great for finals. Mostly, everyone dropped time and worked together as a team,” said Woodland senior Julie Hinckley, one of the team’s four captains.
Greg Aldrich earned the Hawks’ best individual finish by taking seventh in the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.43.
Seniors and captains Colin Kennelly and Jake Stow added their own top-ten finishes. Kennelly took eighth in the 100 freestyle (53.49). Stow finished tenth in the 100 backstroke (1:04.63).
Hinckley, one of the few female swimmers competing at the meet, was impressive, as well. She scored points in two individual events, the 500 freestyle and 200 individual medley.
In the 500, Hinckley shaved nearly 10 seconds off her time at the time trial to finish 13th, the top of her heat, in 5:37.50.
“I didn’t really think about that race,” she said. “I just swam it and it felt good.”
In the 200 IM, she finished 15th overall with a time of 2:26.81.
Hinckley also was a member of two relays that finished in the top ten.
In the 400 free relay, Hinckley was the second leg, joining Jeffrey Varesio, Stow and Kennelly, and the foursome finished seventh overall in 3:44.36.
In the 200 free relay, Hinckley was the third leg, joining Zack Arisian, Chase Chura, and Aldrich, and the team came in ninth in 1:45.86.
“She’s our workhorse. She’s our leader by example,” said Woodland head coach Tom Currier about Hinckley. “She’s probably one the most well-rounded swimmers I have.”
Woodland’s 200 medley relay team of Stow, Aldrich, Varesio and Kennelly finished seventh in 1:08.43 to make it top-ten finishes for all three relays.
“We did best individual times, so it translated into best times for relays, as well,” Currier said.
Woodland left the NVL meet with a quite a few more swimmers that had qualified for the Class S state meet.
Heading into NVLs, Kennelly (50 and 100 freestyle), Clark (diving) and Stow (backstroke) had qualified for the Class S meet.
Once the meet was over, Hinckley (500 freestyle), Arisian (butterfly), Varesio (100 freestyle) and Aldrich (breaststroke and 200 IM) added their names to the list of automatic qualifiers for the March 15 meet at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
“We’re ready to go for states,” Currier said.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.