March 11, 2010

By Marty Gitlin
Special to NCCA.com

CANTON, Ohio -- When Cassie Chetosky was at Utica High School in the Michigan town of the same name, one of her coaches offered that one must have a "couple of screws loose" to compete in diving.

Chetosky isn't certain if she has a couple of screws loose, but she put the hammer down on the 3-meter diving competition Thursday night on the second day of the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships at C.T. Branin Natatorium, rallying over her final five dives to claim the 3-meter title.

The Wayne State (Michigan) junior, who also excels in the 1-meter, has made a steady and natural progression in the event. She finished seventh as a freshman and third as a sophomore before grabbing the 2010 crown. And what makes her achievement more remarkable is that she had never even stepped onto a diving board competitively until six years ago.

One reason for her rapid rise in the diving ranks is her experience as a gymnast. Chetosky participated in that sport for 13 years and found that the skills she gained translated smoothly into those required in diving.

"When it first came to flip and twist, I almost knew how to throw my arms and somersault," she explained. "I was actually planning on swimming in high school, but the coach told me I would be a better diver and I ended up loving it."

Her teammates were also loving it when Chetosky placed first on Thursday, particularly because they needed every point they could get in what might be a vain attempt to catch powerful Drury University (Springfield, Mo.) in the team standings. It helped that teammates Carly Sevald (third) and Lena Wileczel (eighth) also scored.

"I was able to stay focused," said Chetosky, who plans on embarking on a career in veterinary medicine. "I don't think about other people. I never dive to win. I just dive to the best of my ability. I was able to do the back two-and-a-half and reverse two-and-a-half well, which really helped. I messed those in the prelims, which is why I ended up third heading into the finals."

As for having a couple screws loose, Chetosky isn't sure. She just knows that she's quite willing to try new things. And anyone who can smack their head on a diving board and get right back up to dive again must be at least a bit different. Chetosky broke her hand on a dive early last season and missed two months.

Men's 1-meter champion Logan Pearsall knows all about that. The Clarion (Pa.) junior said he completely understood what Chetosky's former coach meant by requiring a couple loose screws to be a competitive diver.

"I would have to agree," he said. "To smack, then get up and do it again like nothing happened? Anyone else is going to smack and then they're done."

Pearsall won the 3-meter a year ago and placed second in the 1-meter. But he was still concerned Thursday morning that he would not advance from the prelims into the finals. He didn't need to be - he dominated the prelims and the finals before an enthusiastic crowd.

"There are a lot of freshmen who came up and are very talented," he explained. "It was anyone's game to win. I just had to dive really well to get back into the finals. The freshman class here is very good."

Pearsall added that he tried to pump himself up for dives with which he was less comfortable and stay very calm for dives he considers his specialties. The strategy certainly worked.

Drury swimming coach Brian Reynolds agrees that divers are unlike swimmers in terms of their attitudes and outlook.

"They're a different animal," he said. "They have to do things physically that the brain can't normally process. Those kids are amazing. I do think diving is a lot like gymnastics because of the flipping and turning and twisting."

Just as long as they don't lose their loose screws when they hit the water.