When Rafael Rodriguez steps onto a diving board, the Sumner High sophomore likes to keep it simple before every attempt.
With a clear mind, Rodriguez takes his leap into the deep.
“Before every dive, you have a fear that you could mess up — when you smack the water, it hurts,” Rodriguez said. “But you have to get over that mental break and be tough. (But) I like to just stay calm and go through what I want to do on my dive.”
That mindset now has Rodriguez diving at the top of his game. He’s only beginning to tap into his well of potential as he gears up for districts and the Class 3A state swimming and diving meet at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
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“I’m just happy I’m going to be able to dive there this year,” he said. “I’ve worked hard all offseason with club diving to get to that opportunity.”
Rodriguez’s personal best score was set this season at 372.5 points, which helped the sophomore qualify for state.
What a difference a year of offseason work can make. Sumner coach Maari Bennett remembers when she first saw Rodriguez dive last year. After coming out for swimming, Rodriguez was just looking for a place to belong.
He was raw last year, but he looked better as each meet went by … last year was the first time he ever stepped onto a diving board, let alone compete.
Maari Bennett, Sumner High dive coach
Instead, Rodriguez found something more, something even greater within himself once he stepped on the diving board inside Sumner’s pool. He found what he hopes to be his future.
“I felt comfortable — I was nervous at my first meet, but I was comfortable when I first started diving,” Rodriguez said.
On his first dive attempts, Bennett knew she had a top talent on hand.
“He was raw last year, but he looked better as each meet went by … last year was the first time he ever stepped onto a diving board, let alone compete,” Bennett said. “He’s just a natural, and he nearly made it to state as he missed by a tenth of a point.”
A month into his freshman season, Bennett had seen enough to know the potential Rodriguez had.
“I told him that if he started club diving, he could earn a (college) scholarship,” Bennett said. “He has that kind of talent.”
Rodriguez dove into the offseason and joined the Northwest Rippers Dive Club in Federal Way, where he dives at the King County Aquatic Center for his club team.
“By diving all year-round, I’ve been able to learn a lot and develop my own techniques when I dive,” Rodiguez said. “I can do a lot more now.”
“He really makes this team complete because of his ability,” senior captain Stephen Bone said. “He’s always working hard. That makes the swimming side work just as hard as he is.”
He also has an added benefit from club diving in Federal Way: familiarity. Divers are different than swimmers in that every board is not the same, whereas most pools are. Every diver has to account for the little details at each meet.
“Every pool’s board is different, and I have to be sure to go through and check those things,” Rodriguez said. “Does the board bend more when you dive, or is it firmer than what I’m used to?”
Little details that mean so much in the diving world. Any difference to what someone accustomed to, then a single dive can be botched — or even an entire meet.
At Foss High, Rodriguez experienced one of these moments. The diving board inside Foss’ pool didn’t work the way he wanted it to, as the board caused divers to dip to their right on each attempt. Unlike last year, Rodriguez was able to make the necessary adjustments.
“When you went for your dive, we would have compensate for that,” Rodriguez said. “No matter which pool or what board you’re using, you have to be comfortable when you dive.”
And comfortable is what Rodriguez has become when it comes to diving for Sumner team. With state on lock, all the sophomore has to do is wait. And practice.
I’m working on some (techniques) that you only see from Division-I college divers. I’m just waiting for the right time to show those dives.
Rafael Rodriguez, Sumner High diver
With state just around the corner, there’s still plenty left for this Spartan to show.
“I’m working on some (techniques) that you only see from Division-I college divers,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just waiting for the right time to show those dives.”