EAST LYME — Steve McCusker had no idea he was just a few good dives away from fulfilling his career-long dream Monday at the Class S diving state championships.
He led the field through eight dives at East Lyme High but it was against the orders of Doug Mariano, his coach, to keep track of his placement.
“Doug told me I wasn’t to look at the scoreboard or even talk about points,” McCusker said. “He even sent me to the bathroom after the second round when they announced positions so I didn’t even know where I was. Through the whole meet I thought I was in fifth or sixth place. It never crossed my mind I was in first.”
McCusker finished with a second-place performance, scoring 326.25 points, to become the first male diver in Woodland history to earn all-state honors. He topped everyone but Sacred Heart’s Pete Gallino, who overtook McCusker after the ninth round and won with 362.20 points.
The senior’s silver medal beat everyone’s expectations after he entered the meet seeded outside the top three.
“In practice a few days before, Doug told me I had my work cut out and I had to take out the three (divers) seeded above me,” McCusker said. “The three seeded above me were such a big difference from my score.”
Through five dives, McCusker held second place with 155.50 points. He claimed a 10-point lead after the sixth round and held a narrow lead until it slipped away in the ninth round.
McCusker clung onto silver-medal position to earn all-state recognition. The success came about a week and a half after he placed second at the Naugatuck Valley League championships. He was set to compete at Thursday’s State Open in Middletown, after press time, where he earned the No. 21 seed.
“It was one of my biggest goals I set for myself when I started freshman year and I finally achieved it,” said McCusker, who joins the likes of Heather and Dayna Chucta, Rachael Battis and Lindsay Boland among Woodland’s best-ever divers.
The Hawks swimmers finished 10th at the Class S swim finals Wednesday at Wesleyan. Any swimmers who qualified will go to Saturday’s State Open at Yale.
McCusker gave special credit for his success to Mariano, father of former Naugatuck All-American diver Brian.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Doug,” McCusker said. “Maybe I just might have a little Mariano in me.”