Solon 11-year-old Mitchell Caldwell was a man who executed a plan as the lone triple-event champion during the USA Diving Zone C Championships June 14-16 at Eastern Michigan University’s Michael H. Jones Natatorium in Ypsilanti.
Representing American Flyers Diving, a year-round club based in Solon, Caldwell swept the 11-and-under boys field in the 1-meter and 3-meter springboards and the 5-meter platform to score 45 points for his team – the most among 213 divers from a six-state area.
In particular, Caldwell blew away the 3-meter field with a six-dive score of 225.2 points to best his nearest competition by 38.25 points. Also, he had a six-dive score of 207.1 points on the 1-meter springboard and a five-dive score of 174.6 points on the platform.
“He’s basically paid a lot more attention to his lineups and hitting the water cleanly,” AFD head coach Marc Cahalane said. “I think in the past he might make just kind of a very simple error, where he wouldn’t grab his hands on an entry or something along those lines. Now he’s grabbing his hands, getting close to the board and trying to go in much cleaner.”
With his success at zones, Caldwell punched his fourth straight ticket to the USA Diving Junior National Championships, which will be held July 30-Aug. 6 at the University of Tennessee’s Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville.
Overall, nine AFD divers qualified for nationals in 16 events this season, including Caldwell, 11, of Solon; Lyle Yost, 18, a 2019 Shaker Heights graduate; Dominic Roberto, 13, of Solon; Samantha Holtz, 13, of Chagrin Falls; RJ Keating, 12, of Boardman; Janie Boyle, 18, a 2019 Orange graduate; Jackson Salisbury, 17, a rising senior at Solon; Kate LaMonica, 16, a rising junior at Chagrin Falls; and Natalie Zalud, 11, of Chagrin Falls.
In addition to Caldwell, nine-time national qualifier Yost and six-time national qualifier Roberto will also be competing in all three events in their age groups.
“I think we have a pretty good group going,” coach Cahalane said. “Some of our kids missed an event we were hoping they’d make, but they’re still pretty high-end in what they’re doing when they get there. So, I think that’ll be good.
“And Dominic (Roberto) and Mitch (Caldwell) are really working toward the junior Pan Am meet. Hopefully, they can make that. So, we’ll have a bigger and better showing than last year, which is nice. And I still think we have a very strong group.”
After making it to finals in all three of his events during last year’s national championships, Caldwell is on track for a repeat and then some.
At zones, Caldwell hit his front 2 1/2 somersault from the pike position for 42 points on the 3-meter springboard, his back somersault with 1 1/2 twists for 39.6 points on the 1-meter springboard and his back 1 1/2 with 1 1/2 twists for 45 points on platform.
“I do think he’s one of the best in the nation in his age group,” Cahalane said. “So, he stands a chance of doing very well at nationals. I don’t know if they’re going to take anyone out of his age group to junior Pan (Americas), but he stands a very good shot.”
Roberto, in the 12-and-13 boys competition, finished fourth on the 1-meter springboard with an eight-dive score of 297.4 points, fifth on the 3-meter springboard with an eight-dive score of 314.4 points and third on the platform with a seven-dive score of 288 points, coming just 11.5 points shy of champion Joshua Hedberg on the 7.5-meter tower.
Roberto’s best dive on tower was his front 2 1/2 pike that scored 50.4 points. He also scored 50.4 points on his back 2 1/2 tuck off the 3-meter springboard.
“Last year, I thought, was a pretty good growth year for him,” Cahalane said about Roberto moving up an age group after competing in 11-and-unders for four years. “He did a lot; he learned a lot; he really kind of pushed the envelope on new dives. But he felt a little letdown that he didn’t qualify for any finals at nationals, and that was a big learning experience for him.
“But I do think it was important for him to, unfortunately, go through that, because he came back this year with a very different approach to train. He’s very focused and very willing to make the fine-tune changes that is needed, mainly in his flexibility and range in motion. So, this year has been super good, and the progress he’s making is really showing.”
Yost, in the 16-to-18 boys competition, was a prequalified diver for nationals in all three disciplines but decided to compete at zones in two events nonetheless.
A three-time state champion on the 1-meter springboard in high school, Yost scored 594.3 points from his 11-dive list during USA zones earlier this month to best his nearest competition by 88.6 points. He hit his reverse 2 1/2 tuck for 73.5 points.
Yost also won the Zone C title on platform with a 10-dive score of 481.7 points on the 10-meter tower to best his nearest competition by 26 points. He hit his back 2 1/2 pike for 68.15 points.
“Technically, he didn’t even have to show up at the meet,” Cahalane said. “He has a straight bye into the national meet for his success in previous meets and being on Team USA. I still wanted him to compete, because I think that tower is his least favorite event, and it was nice for him to be able to focus on that.”
Becoming a three-time national qualifier, meanwhile, Holtz advanced in two events.
She took fifth in the 12-and-13 girls 1-meter springboard with an eight-dive score of 268.65 points, just 9.55 points out of first. She hit her front double pike for 42.55 points.
Holtz also took fifth on the platform with a six-dive score of 197.25 points from the 7.5-meter tower, hitting her front 2 1/2 pike for 40.8 points.
“The 1-meter is actually her least favorite event, but she dialed it in and did have a great 1-meter meet,” Cahalane said. “Her potential is definitely there. She just has to come into those meets with the attitude of partly having fun but extremely focused and serious.
“So, she was disappointed not to make it to nationals on 3-meter, because 3-meter and tower are her better events, but we’re definitely going to focus on tower more than 1-meter now. But, yeah, that was probably the best 1-meter meet I’ve ever seen her do, and it was nice to see her put her emotions in check and really figure things out.”
Keating, who is now a five-time national qualifier, also made it out in those two events, finishing eighth in the 12-and-13 boys 1-meter springboard with an eight-dive score of 252.4 points and eighth on the platform with a seven-dive score of 211.5 points.
On 1 meter, he hit his front double tuck for 38.5 points. And on the 5-meter tower, he hit his inward 1 1/2 tuck for 37.4 points.
“He did well, and he’s been looking really good,” Cahalane said. “He’s improved a lot, and we’re really focusing on keeping the basics and getting them better. And he’s fixed a lot of his fine-tuning, where he’s jumping higher and trying to enter the water clean and tight. The dive’s not over right when your hands hit the water, and he’s starting to understand that.”
Salisbury, meanwhile, will be returning to the national stage for the first time in the 16-to-18 boys competition thanks to his fifth place on platform with a 10-dive score of 429.55 points, including a 3 1/2 front tuck from the 10-meter tower for 68.85 points.
The last time Salisbury competed at a USA Diving national championship was in the 14-and-15 age group in 2016.
“He’s worked hard all year,” Cahalane said. “He’s been very focused and very diligent. I told him from the beginning that, if he shifts his focus to tower, that’s where I think he’s going to shine and be the best at. I mean, he had some outstanding dives. He still missed a few dives that I don’t think he should have missed, but some of the dives he hit he just obliterated.
“So, he’s got the potential to score huge. It’s just now about getting him to be a little more consistent with really some of his easier dives. But he’s excited to be back.”
A first-time national qualifier, meanwhile, LaMonica took eighth in the 16-to-18 girls platform with a nine-dive score of 301.35 points, hitting her inward 2 1/2 tuck for 44.55 points off the 7.5-meter tower.
Last year, LaMonica did not compete at zones on the platform during her first year of competition in the 16-to-18 age group, when she was doing all of her dives from the 5-meter tower. She now has four dives on her platform list from the higher tower.
“I brought her up to our travel squad last year just because she’s talented, her work ethic is good and she’s very willing to do dives and to be coached,” Cahalane said. “And she was honestly a big surprise. We did not know if she would qualify for nationals on tower, and it was super exciting to see her really step up, put it together and qualify on the platform.”
Also punching her first ticket to nationals was novice diver Natalie Zalud, who finished seventh in the girls 11-and-under platform with a five-dive score of 80.5 points.
“So, Natalie’s new to our program,” Cahalane said. “She just started with us in the wintertime and began coming one day a week, but we saw she was really coachable and really kind of quietly serious and really willing to be there and try stuff. So, she started doing more days.
“And she’s new. So, she’s not nearly where she should be for a national meet, but she was willing to get five dives on her platform list and able do them safely, and now she’s coming with us to nationals.”
Boyle, a two-time high school state champion for Orange on the 1-meter springboard, who will be continuing her diving career at the University of Texas, wasn’t able to travel with AFD to the Zone C championships in Michigan.
Instead, she competed in the USA Diving Zone A Championships held June 21-23 at the Kennedy Shiver Aquatics Center in Rockville, Maryland, and finished third in the 16-to-18 girls platform with a nine-dive score of 393.1 points, just 11.4 points out of first, to become a five-time national qualifier.
Boyle hit her front 3 1/2 tuck for 52.65 points and her inward 2 1/2 pike for 50.4 points, both from the 10-meter tower.
“The weekend of the regional meet that we were going to was the weekend of her prom,” Cahalane said. “So, she had to take a different route away from her teammates. And when she went to zones, her backs and gainers just weren’t where they needed to be. So, she usually outdoes her competition in the optional rounds, but this time it was kind of the opposite for her.
“So, she’s a little disappointed she doesn’t get to go on all three, but I think it’ll be nice for her to focus on just one event and really dial in on it. That’ll be good for her.”