While southwest Missouri swimmers often make it to the medal stand at state, the area diving scene is another story.
But Kickapoo High School diving coach Richard Hackett said every now and then, area divers can shine.
This year, Hackett has two strong divers in senior Olivia Willoughby and junior Kylie Wilson, who will compete at the state swim meet Saturday in St. Peters. Not that it will be easy against some of the big shots from the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.
Those athletes have the facilities to compete and practice all year round, while the Springfield area divers have access to facilities for only about three months of the year, the coach said.
However, this doesn’t scare the local talent.
“It’s hard to go up against them knowing they have the experience of going all year round. But, at the same time, we have the level to compete with them after practicing for just three months,” Wilson said. “It’s difficult but also a good experience to say, ‘They’ve been going at this all year but I can compete at your level even after only practicing a short amount of time.'”
Hackett runs a lessons program at Drury University over the summer for younger kids. But even then, he admits, swimmers and divers are off competing in other sports.
“Olivia is very talented and, although she doesn’t dive all year round, I still expect her to finish in the top eight,” Hackett said. “She’s capable of competing with those girls and she certainly showed it in our local meet.”
With only 15 divers in the Springfield area, serious competitors almost have to go to the big cities to compete against some of the best. To qualify for state, divers have to earn 210 points at qualifying meets. Wilson sneaked in with 211 points at the Ozarks Invitational in January.
Willoughby, who finished 15th at last year’s state meet and finished in first place in the Springfield Invitational last month, began diving at an early age in Hawaii.
But the move to the Midwest also led her to cross country.
“When I got to high school and was given the opportunity to dive again, I was excited. It was like that love from when I was a child and that I got to try it once,” Willoughby said. “But now I’m like, ‘This is fun and I’d like to actually do something with it.’ This year I’d like to be under 15th, but the top eight would be phenomenal.”
However, Wilson’s diverse background has helped her with not only her competitive streak but also her form. After leaving a 13-year gymnastics career and moving to her first love, softball, Wilson had some time to kill over the winter months.
“Softball is more aggressive and it’s subjective, you either win or you lose there’s nothing in between,” Wilson said. “Whereas diving is more objective, there are standards but nothing that says that this is the perfect dive.”