By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
WATERTOWN — It’s impossible for Woodland girls swim coach Mike Magas to pull junior diver Ella Bernegger out of the pool.
All that time in the water — and immediately prior on the diving board — is paying off for the recently crowned champion.
Bernegger became the most recent in a long line of Woodland’s Naugatuck Valley League diving champions, breaking the school’s 11-dive record to win the title Nov. 3 at Watertown High.
Magas, who has coached previous diving champions Rachael Battis, Heather Chucta, Dayna Chucta, Sara Fowler and Kayleigh Theroux, attributes Bernegger’s record-setting performance to her tireless work.
“I was trying to think of a term for Ella’s work ethic,” Magas said. “You know how basketball players who won’t leave the gym are gym rats? Ella’s like a pool frog. You just can’t get her out of the pool at the end of practice. When we’re done for the day, she says, ‘Wait, one more?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we have to leave the pool.’ She works so hard.”
Bernegger piled up 419.20 points, shattering Dayna Chucta’s decade-old school record of 391.15. The junior’s effort especially impressed Woodland diving coach Michele Griffith, who noted that Bernegger has mastered her dives. One of those, the inward 1 1/2 dive, instilled some fear at first but later became one of her best dives.
“She went in knowing what she had to execute and she did just that,” Griffith told the Republican-American. “There were no flaws in any of her dives.”
Woodland’s diving contingent was dominant. Shaelin DiGioia posted a personal-best total of 373.65 points to earn the silver medal, while Theroux placed fifth with 299.55 points.
The divers gave the Hawks an incredible advantage leading to the NVL swim finals, which are set for Nov. 6 at Kennedy High. Woodland was already a heavy favorite to defend its 2019 league title after a dominant regular season, and the 1-2-5 finish in diving gave the Hawks a big lead entering the swimming events.
The next challenge for Bernegger and her diving teammates is the Class S diving championships. They are scheduled to compete Nov. 10 at Sheehan High.