Layden won’t let one bad dive define his season

LEWISBURG — As Brian Layden picked up his backpack and headed off the deck at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium, there wasn’t the slightest trace of disappointment in his step.

The Springfield senior had just finished 20th in the PIAA Class AAA diving event, axed after eight dives at the semifinal stage. His quest for a top-16 spot was derailed in round four when his back one-and-a-half, half-twist went awry, leaving him with twos from the judges and a hole he couldn’t climb out of.

That one dive didn’t dominate his feelings about his first trip to states, the first Class AAA berth for a Delco boys diver in five years.

“I made it to states,’ Layden said. “I did well, whether the scores showed it or not. I was proud with how I dove, so no regrets with how I’m leaving here.’

The scores, however accessory they might be in Layden’s mind, reinforce that. He was in 12th place before that ill-fated dive. When the field was trimmed to 20 divers after the five-dive prelims, Layden was situated 20th, 14 points off the 16th-placed diver.

When the cut came three rounds later, Layden was 13 points in arrears of 16th with 274.50, able to keep up with competitors around him but not recoup his losses.

His askew dive, a 5231D, which Layden has had in the arsenal for a while, carried a degree of difficulty of 2.1. The difference between his unsatisfactory execution and satisfactory scores would’ve been in the teens, bridging that gap.

Layden, an All-Delco defensive lineman last fall, displayed the mental fortitude to stay in contention after the slipup. He said he was pressing too hard on the botched dive, trying to be too perfect. Getting back on the board was about re-centering mentally.

“What happened is that I was trying to change something, and then I messed up,’ he said. “That’s why I like to think of it as, reset my mind and go back to what I was doing in practice, keep everything the way it was and not make it tip-top perfect, just try to do it the way you know you can do it.’

Unlike most of his competitors — including winner Joe Ference of Penn Trafford, who notched a score of 542.85 — Layden isn’t a club diver. By confining his talents to the scholastic realm, the state meet is the pinnacle of what he could’ve achieved in high school.

No score could’ve wiped that out Saturday.

“I couldn’t have wished for anything further,’ said Layden, who is weighing options to dive in college if the educational fit is right. “I’m so proud of how I did this year.’

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When he tweaked his hamstring in the preliminary heat of the 100 backstroke, Eli Avart was a little concerned, so much so that he refrained from practicing a backstroke start before the evening finals.

But like most of the senior’s Radnor career, things went just fine.

Avart turned in a time of 52.42 seconds — slightly slower than the 52.26 he used to sneak into the last consolation final spot — to bump up a spot to 15th overall.

Coupled with his fifth place Friday in the 100 butterfly, it’s been a pretty good weekend for Avart, the only Delco boys competitor to make Saturday’s evening finals. He set personal bests in the fly and the 50 freestyle to lead off Radnor’s 200 free relay, which made finals.

The trip to Bucknell was a fitting culmination for Avart, who’ll continue his career at East Carolina. He and his classmates — among them states qualifier Tim Caulfield and relay contributors Brian McKeon and Richard Patten — helped usher in a halcyon period for the Raiders. They won two Central League dual meet titles, including this year’s undefeated run, and sent numerous swimmers to states.

Most of all, Avart is proud of the way the group has stayed together to reach those heights.

“Our four years at Radnor have been the best four years in (program) history,’ he said. “It’s been led by just an all-star group. … It’s all just been great. We had 10 kids in our class, and we didn’t lose anyone through all four years.’

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