Last February, New Oxford’s Rachel Groden had no idea she qualified for the District 3 Class AAA diving championships.
But after the scores at the YAIAA championships were added up, it was true. Her face lit up in surprise.
One year later, there will be no such surprises for Groden. The senior fully expects to be at the district diving meet and has loftier goals.
“I think I want to place at districts,” she said. “I just wanted to make it to counties that year. Then I placed and made it to districts. My goals are set way high.”
Groden, who ended up 11th at districts last February, said the experience of being there before will help, as will additional training and improvements to her 11-dive program.
“I think it’s going to help me because I am going to know what it feels like diving at a county and district meet,”she added. “We have been practicing tons more. We actually practice every day for about an hour or hour and a half.”
That work has paid dividends this season. The 231.60 points she earned during the Colonials' meet at South Western is the third highest winning score by a YAIAA girl this season.
But there’s more. Groden is also a strong swimmer on the New Oxford team. Her best individual events are the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly. She also swims on two Colonials relays that have won several races this season.
Now, she hopes to also qualify for the District 3 swimming championships. Historically, divers have qualified for the swimming championships a few times, but it's a rare accomplishment.
“I am so close to beating that 50 free (qualifying time). The fourth or fifth meet in, I almost beat it,” Groden said. “My fastest time was at counties (last year) so I hope I am pushing forward. If I make it to counties that will boost me up even more to break that time.”
New Oxford swimming coach Cheryl Mowery has a simple explanation for Groden’s success.
“Her athletic ability and her hard work,” said Mowery. “She works extremely hard, and is always very positive. That’s why she does so well.”
Groden is one of three Colonials who compete in both diving and swimming. Seniors Gabe DiMisa and Dylan McCann also pull double duty, and that helps one of the smaller YAIAA Division I teams score points during meets that have diving.
“If they can do both, I might as well get all the points I can,” Mowery said.
That was one of the reasons Groden decided to dive. And since she already had a background in gymnastics, it was a natural transition.
“We would lose six points every time we don’t have a dive team. I was like, ‘Why don’t we have a dive team?’ So I asked Coach Mowery if I could dive,” she said.
The key was finding a place to practice. The Colonials hold their swimming workouts at the Brethren Home, which is small and not deep enough for diving.
As it turns out, Spring Grove was willing to host the Colonials divers. Coincidentally, Spring Grove’s diving coach, Beth Lee, is a physical education teacher at New Oxford, and knows the divers.
Because of it, Groden is able to feed her competitive spirit in two sports during the same season. After giving up gymnastics, she wanted to be involved in school sports. She joined the swim team to stay in shape and has also competed in volleyball, tennis and has pole vaulted on the Colonials track and field team.
It’s working well both ways.