For many athletes, the journey toward the top of their respective sport takes years.
For West High diver Jacintha Thomas, the climb toward the top hasn’t been easy, but it has been rapid.
In just her third year of diving after a series of injuries prompted her to make the transition from competitive gymnastics to diving, Thomas has already established herself as one of the top prep divers in the state.
A two-time state qualifier, Thomas finished fourth at the state meet last year and will be looking to improve on that mark when the state swimming and diving meet gets underway at 5 p.m. Friday at the Marshalltown YMCA.
“Gymnastics got to the point, with the injuries, that it kind of stopped being fun,” Thomas said. “When I started diving, I started having fun again. That’s made a big difference in my success.”
Thomas has wasted little time climbing to the top of the sport.
She finished 24th at the state meet as a freshman in 2011, her first season as a competitive diver.
Last year she finished fourth at state, which was won by another sophomore, Maggie James of Ames.
Thomas enters Friday’s state meet with the second highest qualifying score from last week’s regional meets trailing only James.
Thomas posted a 479.95 score at the regional meet while James scored a 512.65, the highest 11-dive score in the state this year.
Even with the high qualifying score and last year’s success, Thomas said she isn’t focused on James or a state title.
“I want to try and hit every dive,” Thomas said. “So far, at every l1-dive meet I’ve missed at least one dive, so I’m going to try to go for a personal best and just try to hit every dive as best I can. It would be nice (to win), but I’m trying not to focus too much on that.”
Last year at the state meet, James posted a score of 512.80 to claim the state title with Thomas three spots back with a 439.60.
Although Thomas closed that gap at the regional meet this year, West coach Tony Kramer said a state title has been the focus.
“I’d love to have her be a state champion, and I’m sure she’d love it more than me, but my goal going into this is I want a clean meet.,” Kramer said. “I want her to put forth her best effort and let the dominoes fall where they do. I just want her to walk away from it happy with how she dove.”
Thomas leads an experienced group of West divers into state.
Fellow junior Alex Aaberg will make her third straight appearance at the state meet after finishing 36th as a freshman and 13th last year.
Becca Hilmer, another junior, also returns to the state meet for the Trojans after placing ninth last season.
With three divers competing Friday who have previous top-15 finishes under their belt, West swimming coach Rob Miecznikowski is excited about the lift that they can give the Trojans in the team race.
“That’s a huge bump when it’s a state meet when you come in on Saturday and you’ve got 35 or 40 points on the board, and we could have more than that,” Miecznikowski said. “That’s huge, and it kind of gets the swimmers excited too because they know they are really in it.”