Garnet Valley flush with diving depth

CONCORD — In what has the makings of a banner year for boys diving in the Central League, meets involving Garnet Valley have featured some of Delaware County’s best divers. The only catch is that not all of them have been on the board.

The Jaguars have an unusual and enviable predicament this season: With a 14-strong male diving contingent, 11 of whom have achieved cuts for the Central League Championships and four of whom have qualified for the District One Championships, each dual meet features a handful of serviceable divers filling the role of spectators.

With teams limited to three entrants in a dual-meet diving event, competitors that would be automatic selections for most other teams are often left to await their turn, relegated to the role of scorekeeper or cheerleader. It’s a board-sharing arrangement that is only possible through the cohesiveness of the squad.

Each meet, diving coach Ron Leraris makes the call on who will compete. Leraris said that there’s some consideration with swim coach Clark Bickling about how vital the diving score is to the meet result, but ultimately the decision of which diving options to deploy rests primarily with Leraris, who weighs various factors like commitment and performance in practice. He’s freed somewhat knowing that in many meets, any selection from his stable of divers can do the job of scoring points for the Jags.

There’s no shortage of options. Dean Allred, who competed at districts last season, has the group’s top score this season at 214.70. Nigel Moore, John Fitzpatrick and Gray McKee are also into districts this season, each over the 190-point cut and among the top 13 scorers in the Central League.

Five divers — Fitzpatrick, McKee, Allred, junior Dillon Smart and senior Andy Crisp, the Jags’ fifth-leading scorer — have won competitions in dual meets this season.

The divers have managed to harness the competition as a positive motivator, something Leraris credits to their self-motivation and the maturity of a senior-heavy group. The scarcity of meets puts a premium on performance in practice, driving the athletes to make the most of chances to state their cases.

“There’s a lot of dedication,’ McKee said last week after a meet with Ridley. “Everybody has to come to all the practices, and we’re lucky that we get to do two diving boards at a time, so it’s split sort of even. We have a great coach who helps us with everything, and everyone just gives it their all. When it’s their time, they get to go up and show what they’ve got.’

The sheer numbers are actually beneficial for Leraris in a strange way. Combined with Garnet Valley’s three girls divers — two of whom, Morgan and Ashley Kovatch, have also qualified for districts — Leraris oversees practice sessions of some 17 divers. Even with the recording system he’s set up, his eyes can’t be everywhere all the time.

With the veteran leadership of the boys squad, there are plenty of sources of coaching on deck ready to volunteer their judgments.

“My teammates help me out a ton,’ Allred said. “I always get critiques from my coach and also from the kids that are around me because they’re all unbelievable divers. It’s a great environment.’

The Jaguars’ situation is similar to Ridley, which also features four districts-qualifying divers in Ricky and Ryan Van Vladricken, Gene Gibbons and Alex Dawson. But the wrinkle for Garnet Valley is that while the Green Raiders’ group features three underclassmen, the Jags’ dive squad is led by five seniors, including three among the districts qualifiers (only Fitzpatrick is a junior).

That nuance ramps up the intensity, and while Leraris says he makes a concerted effort to include at least one senior among each diving triumvirate he sets out there, it’s a constant pressure hanging in the background.

“It does get harder because they know they’re going to be done soon,’ Leraris said of the seniors. “A lot of seniors want to dive every single meet. And they know they can’t. They know my hands are tied.’

The understanding has also evolved as the year has gone on. Divers that have their cuts are more concerned with getting in the practice time to ready their programs for Centrals and Districts. The entire squad wears as a badge of honor the number of divers qualified for the postseason, and the desire to see their peers join them at Centrals or Districts mitigates the disappointment of not competing.

The postseason offers more freedom for the Jaguars’ full contingent. There’s no limit to the number of divers a team can enter into a meet like the Central League Championships, which will approach a dozen. District One constrains teams to four diving entries per gender, which means no decisions have to be made yet on who goes.

The hope among the Jaguars is that the sacrifice and deference in the regular season will pay dividends in the postseason meets.

“It’s really exciting,’ McKee said. “We’re all happy that we’re lucky enough to get this many kids who can go to Centrals and Districts, and we just try to get as many kids as we can to this spot.’

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