GENEVA, Ohio -- In 24 seasons at Clarion, head diving coach Dave Hrovat has been personally responsible for 40 individual national championships and 246 All-Americans. In fact, only three times -- 1994, 2012 and '13 -- has Hrovat not brought home at least one individual crown.
Junior Kristin Day got things started off Wednesday with a title in the women’s three-meter spring board, and then freshman diver Collin Vest followed that up with a championship of his own in the one-meter board. The Golden Eagles may not be finished, with Day and teammates Sarah Zerfoss and Lauren Slayton all scheduled to compete for the women’s 1m crown Friday.
That his divers have collected a total of 246 All American honors -- and counting -- is nothing short of stunning. Yet ask Hrovat about the success the Clarion diving program has enjoyed, and he’ll insist that it’s not necessarily about the championships.
“It’s about having fun with kids, helping them reach their goals,” Hrovat said. “The outcome, the placings, don’t really matter. Sure, it’s nice to get kids in finals and this and that, but for me to see those kids succeed, that’s what makes it. Winning’s great, but seeing them succeed is the cream of the crop.”
Day might just be the best example of how well Hrovat’s approach can work out. Four years ago, during one of the school’s annual diving camps, she was so terrified while climbing the ladder that she was in tears. But she was able to overcome her fears.
During her first year at Clarion, Day had twice-a-day diving practices on Mondays and Wednesdays, plus trampoline workouts a 30-minute drive away. In addition, the biochemistry major had a full course load. But Hrovat believed she could handle it all, and the national championship Day won this week proved him right.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Day said. “He knows how to work with me and get it through my head that I can actually do stuff. He works the steps through until I get prepared to go up there and do it. I still get nervous climbing up the ladder, I really do. I just kind of do the dive and don’t think about how high up I am.”
Competitive diving has been a part of Hrovat’s life since he was 7, and by the time he was 9, he was going to national championship meets. And as much as the sport is ingrained in him, he’s every bit as much a part of Clarion as the school is in him.
He grew up in Mentor, Ohio, a 150-minute drive from Clarion, and his mom still lives there. He likes to hunt and fish, so he likes the school’s country setting.
His teams have their own diving well, so they don’t have to compete with the swim squads for pool time. And within the next couple of years, the school plans to build a new natatorium.
“Our staff and athletic administration is just fantastic,” Hrovat said. “It’s such a close-knit group. Our athletic director has been at the school 30-plus years. He’s been around forever. The head swim coach was the assistant when I first started, so we’ve been together coaching for 24 years. It’s just a nucleus that the family doesn’t really break up.”
It’s understandably hard for Hrovat to pick one champion who stands out from the rest. Jamie Wolf won seven DII titles from 2004-07. Then there's Day and Vest, all of whom holding a special place with their coach. But it's not just about the championships. Hrovat’s divers have gone on to become doctors, lawyers and school teachers. The pride in his face is unmistakable when Hrovat thinks about where he's been and what he's seen in 24 seasons.
“Right now, this week, at the Pennsylvania high school state championships, I have probably six or seven past athletes that I’ve coached that are coaching high schools and have divers at the championship,” Hrovat said.