Clark rallies to win to third straight NVL diving title

Woodland’s Riley Clark gets into a tuck position as he completes a dive during the NVL diving championships at Kennedy High School in Waterbury on Feb. 27. – BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — Standing on the diving board seconds before he hit the water for the final time in his Naugatuck Valley League career, Woodland senior Riley Clark felt a mix of emotions so volatile that his stomach bubbled.

“I remember I was on the board getting ready to do my takeoff and feeling like I was going to throw up,” Clark said. “I knew as soon as I hit the water, the meet would be over and we’d know who the top three would be. I was so nervous to see it.”

Needing a quality dive to secure his third straight NVL diving title, Clark nailed a back double somersault to push him to the top of the leaderboard and give him the three-peat.

Clark finished with 432.80 points, breaking his own school record for an 11-dive event. He edged Holy Cross’ Marcas Racevicius, who led for more of the meet and finished with 419.70 points.

Although he was consistent throughout the competition, Clark knew he would have to rely on the technically-difficult dives he placed at the end of his routine if he wanted to rally. With three dives to go, he faced a 16-point deficit.

“I was nervous,” Clark said. “Everyone was nailing their dives, and I knew I had to nail my last ones. I always place my difficult dives to get higher (degree of difficulty) at the end, so I knew that if I missed them, it was over.”

He placed his back double at the end of his program as a bit of tradition.

“Sophomore year, I won (the NVL title) with my back double, so it’s always been my last dive,” Clark said.

The University of Maine-bound senior had long ago established himself as the best diver in Woodland history, but the NVL three-peat places him among the top divers in league history. Sacred Heart’s Stephen Etienne, who went on to enjoy a successful career at Ohio State, was the last diver to win three straight NVL titles (2009-11).

Clark acknowledged the pressure he felt in trying to complete his own trifecta.

“Amazing and, honestly, relieved” is how Clark described his feelings after the competition. “I felt the pressure of having to defend the title again, and it was my last one. Now I’m done and I can move on and I’m going to college.”

Naugatuck’s Logan Martin completes a somersault during the NVL diving championships at Kennedy High School in Waterbury on Feb. 27. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Clark acknowledged the support of his family, friends and especially diving coach Doug Mariano.

“(Mariano) pushes me extremely hard,” Clark said. “He brings out the best in me even when I don’t think I can anymore. He somehow pulls it out of me.”

Clark will seek his first Class S state diving championship when he competes Thursday at Plainville High. He finished fourth in last year’s competition.

Five other local divers also placed among the top 10 at the NVL competition. Naugatuck boasted four of the top 10: Logan Martin (fourth, 344.20), Ethan Phaneuf (fifth, 319.20), William Brown (eighth, 284.00), and Justin Stone (10th, 266.85). Woodland’s D.J. Mulligan also placed sixth with 305.25 points.

The NVL swim finals were set for March 1. The Class S swim trials are set for Saturday in Cheshire, and the Class S swim finals will be March 11 at Wesleyan.

For Naugatuck, the Class L diving finals are Wednesday in Middletown. The swim trials will be Saturday in East Hartford, and the swim finals will be March 11 at Southern Connecticut.