By Ian Carrano
Building off his strong start to the Division III Diving Regional Championships at Springfield College on Friday night, Connor Pennington put together an impressive performance on Saturday afternoon at the Art Linkletter Natatorium, finishing in first place behind a total score of 519.45. Luca Brashear placed in sixth place overall with 442.7 points, while Sean Andrews finished 15th overall.
Andrews kicked off Springfield College’s day earning a score of 33.6, placing him in fifth after the opening round. Luca Brashear started off strong scoring 39.10 points on his first dive, which put him in second place after the opening round. To jump start his strong performance on the diving board, Pennington earned a 37.4 on his first dive.
Unable to crack the top-three in the first two rounds, Pennington pushed himself into second place after three rounds with a total score of 112.05. Placing second after the first two rounds, Brashear fell to fourth place with a total score of 103.45 in round three.
Slowly working his way up the leaderboard, Pennington took control of the lead with an impressive score of 62.40, pushing his total to a leading 210.45 after landing a forward one-and-a-half somersault two-tuck freestyle.
On his next dive, Pennington failed to land a difficult forward three-and-a-half somersault tuck, which gave him a low 3.0 score – pushing him down the leaderboard to ninth overall. However, despite his lowest score coming in round six, Pennington still managed to overcome it and improved on each of his next five dives.
Seeing consistent improvement after failing his sixth dive, head coach Pete Avduolos credited Pennington’s ability to stay resilient after his lowest scoring dive of the day.
“It shows a lot about a competitor when you mess up bad and when you’re able to rebound and show what you’re made of. It’s about the grit and resilience that we always talk about,” Avduolos said. “He’s a special athlete and he was able to spot the field of dive and still come out ahead. He knew he had a challenge ahead of him after he messed up that dive, but he also knew that he had it in him to still come out on top.”
Feeling a sense of pressure to perform well the rest of the way to get back into the top of the leaderboard, Pennington made sure to pay attention to detail on his next five dives.
“It started out really strong and then I got to my first optional dive, which is my more difficult dive and I absolutely bombed it,” he said. “I fell out of my tuck in the middle of it and scored three points. I knew I had a shot at coming back, but I just had to pretty much have a perfect meet and so I don’t know, I just had to do what I had to do to come back in it.”
Pennington bounced back quickly in the seventh round, earning a 66 on his next dive—moving him back into third place after completing a difficult backward two-and-a-half somersault tuck. Knowing he had already qualified for Nationals; Pennington didn’t get too down on himself for faulting on one of his more difficult dives of the day.
“I think it was definitely I did this because I had already qualified for Nationals, so that really wasn’t on my mind,” Pennington said. “I wasn’t stressing about qualifying today, so I failed the dive and I didn’t get too upset about it. So I just used it as practice pretty much for Nationals and did what I had to do on my other dives.”
Regaining the lead in the eighth round with an inward two-and-a-half somersault tuck, Pennington pushed his total score to 389.6 points after tallying his second-best score of the day with a 66.65. He never looked back afterwards, taking control of the meet in the final two rounds with scores of 52.7 and 68.15.
Acknowledging the great resilience and competitiveness Pennington put on display on Saturday afternoon that separated himself from the rest of the pack, Avduolos had high praise for one of his most accomplished divers.
“He’s probably the most physically talented diver we’ve ever had here. When something kind of goes wrong, it really makes you focus and I think that’s why you saw a little bit that he got better because he knew he had to and it was like I’ve got to bear down here and do what I’m capable of so I can still come ahead,” Avduolos said. “He’s got the arsenal. He’s got the dives and the difficult dives, it’s just a matter of hitting them.”
A lot of what’s made Pennington so successful through the years has been his work ethic and talent level. Seeing a lot of improvement in his dives over the course of his three years at Springfield College, Avduolos has noticed his determination in practice that’s contributed to his ability to complete difficult dives at a consistent level.
“He’s matured a great deal over the past couple of years and he just practices hard every day,” Avduolos said. “He never pushes back on practice, he’s just an absolute pleasure.”
Looking back at the meet, Pennington doesn’t have any regrets about his approach or performance on the diving board.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently. It’s definitely a learning experience for me,” he said. “I had a great time with all the guys out here, it was a lot of fun.”
Pennington will look to carry his recent success on the diving board to the D-III Diving National Championships on March 18-21, which will take place in Greensboro, N.C.
Featured photo courtesy Springfield College Athletics