Juniors Ainsley Anderson, Ellie Dering, and Noelle Dick and have a lot in common. The divers are close friends who share a background in gymnastics, have a stake in each other’s success, and say they gained their drive and perfectionism from their former sport. The three juniors will have another commonality soon when they share a ride for the second year in a row to the WPIAL Class 3A championships in February.
“I feel this is the strongest girls team I’ve had yet at Fox Chapel,” says longtime diving coach Vernon Yenick. “They are all extremely close and very supportive of each other. I’m thrilled with everyone’s progression, especially Ellie, Ainsley, and Noelle, because they are only going to get better.”
When the three WPIAL qualifiers joined the team as freshmen, they were diamonds in the rough; none of them had any previous experience on the board, and that rookie year was more of an introductory period than anything else. Coach Yenick says their growth has been impressive.
One of the most thrilling aspects of diving is watching an athlete make a complicated dive look graceful and effortless. It’s also a skill demonstrated by the best gymnasts, and, while some movements might look similar, many who make the transition to diving find there are a lot of things they need to learn and unlearn.
One thing Ellie knew for sure was that she wanted to find something where she still would be able to do the stunt-like movements she had done for years, but in a way that would be easier on her body.
“Diving was perfect because I got to flip and twist like I had done for years, but without the harsh impact of tumbling,” Ellie says. “At the end of the day, I love flipping around. I find overcoming the scary skills is really rewarding and super fulfilling.”
Coach Yenick couldn’t be more pleased with his captain, Ellie.
“Ellie is a leader and great captain who keeps the team excited and motivated,” says her coach. “I’m happy with how confident and curious she has become, which has led to her getting better scores. Ellie’s spins and somersaults are very fast, and she has a great forward double somersault in the tuck position. She will be changing that to a pike position soon for a higher degree of difficulty of 2.3, which will up her score significantly.”
Ellie says she’s also been focused on her takeoffs this season to get more height to her dives, working on her form, and fine-tuning the dives she already knows and has performed in the past.
Ainsley, whom her coach says is physically one of the strongest divers he has, rivals teammate PIAA Class 4A medalist junior Jackson Hagler in her takeoff heights.
“She’s in a great position,” coach Yenick says.
Her highest score this season is 250.45, only 27 points away from matching the school record set in 2015 by Miranda Simon. Ainsley’s top dives include a forward double somersault in pike position (2.3 difficulty), an inward 1.5 somersault that draws a 2.1 difficulty, and a back 1.5 somersault with a back twist.
In addition to adding two new dives to her performance list, Ainsley says, “I’m cleaning up my entries and technique on the dives I already know and have upped my scores greatly.”
She credits the dynamic among her, Ellie, and Noelle as a factor in helping her to improve, but also the entire team.
“We all try to always be supportive and encouraging with each other,” says Ainsley. “I know, for me, the low-stress environment of our team has also helped my performance a lot, and I find myself having more fun at practices and meets. Diving has been a breath of fresh air for me.”
Once she retired after eight years of competitive gymnastics, Noelle found herself in the same position as Ellie and Ainsley when she first joined the team.
“I still had a sort of itch to flip and go upside down,” says Noelle. “Diving was a great option for me because it is easier on my body, and I could carry over my flipping experience.”
She says her air and body awareness are factors that have allowed her to execute more consistent dives and make corrections more easily.
“I think I am able to keep improving the dives that I’ve been doing since freshman year by focusing on the little corrections, which allows me to get increasingly higher scores,” says Noelle, who found that some of the techniques that worked for her in gymnastics didn’t necessarily translate well to diving.
“The actions of landing a flip headfirst, jumping backward but flipping forward (inward dives), and especially jumping forward but flipping backward (reverse dives) took some time for me to grasp, but I have practiced them and gradually gotten used to them,” says Noelle. “I still have so much to work on though. I need to be more patient on the board so I can get more height and work on flipping and twisting faster so I can get more difficult dives.
“When you try a new dive, you need to be able to commit to it and jump and throw as hard as you can, no matter how afraid you are. You have to be curious about new dives that you could do that play to your strengths and be willing to try anything.”
“Noelle has really been coming on strong, especially with her degree of difficulty,” says Coach Yenick. “She came back really powerful this year, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. She’s earning her most points in the inward 1.5 back somersault and the back somersault with a 1.5 twist. This year has been an explosion of motivation with her.”
The WPIAL Class 3A diving championships are set for February 25 at North Allegheny High School. Boys diver Jackson Hagler also qualified to participate.