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Dylan Szegedi knows he doesn’t necessarily have innate grace or precision — two elements all but vital for successful divers.
But Szegedi knows the importance of his own strength and athleticism as it relates to competitive diving.
“As a diver, I’m physically strong,” said Szegedi, a Wayne State sophomore. “And I attribute that to playing football and doing a lot of weight training, and those help me because I can do a lot of dives off technique. I don’t make dives look pretty, but I’m getting better at that.”
If Szegedi has seen improvement, then his performance at the NCAA Division II swimming and diving championships serves as a significant measuring stick.
The 2011 St. Francis graduate won the national title in men’s 1-meter springboard diving last week in Birmingham, Ala., and helped Wayne State finish fifth in the 29-team meet.
“He has a mental focus, a certain mental control,” Wayne State diving coach Kelly LaCroix said. “He was really steady all through the season and all through his freshman year.
“He’s very consistent, and that’s a tribute to his strength. He doesn’t let the pressure get to him. He was in a hard competition at nationals, and he didn’t waver.”
The Oregon resident was fifth in the 1-meter preliminaries with a score of 487.30 and finished the finals with a top score of 529.65 on 11 dives, ahead of Santa Clara’s Luke Weber (526.70).
Szegedi finished third (544.65) in the 3-meter springboard competition. He set school records with a six-dive score of 368 in the 3-meter competition and a six-dive score of 342 in 1-meter competition.
“When I recruited him, I told him, ‘I’m training you to win nationals,’ ” LaCroix said. “And I told him, ‘It’s not going to be now, but it’s going to be in a few years.’ When he got out of the pool he told me, ‘Well, I didn’t think it was going to be this soon!’ ”
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Even though Szegedi began diving when he was 5, he took four years off from the sport. When he enrolled at St. Francis as a ninth-grader, he went back to diving, though more out of convenience.
“I played football and baseball, but I didn’t have anything to do in the winter,” Szegedi said. “And it wasn’t always very easy. It was actually difficult. The first day I came back, I had to re-learn how to do a front approach, and as I was walking through it on the deck, I slipped and fell.
“That was a little embarrassing, and it took me a couple months to relearn. But once I started training five days a week, I shook off some of the cobwebs.”
At St. Francis, Szegedi won two district titles, finished fourth at the state championships as a senior in 1-meter diving, and was a three-time all-state diving selection under Knights coach Scott TenEyck.
But in his first year at Wayne State, his transition to college was difficult. He had never competed on the 3-meter springboard and, like many freshmen in college athletics, he initially struggled to adjust to more structured schedule. While Szegedi qualified for the national championships, he didn’t have the same comfort level he had at this year’s meet.
“It had been a long season, a six-month grind, and I’d never trained that hard before,” said Szegedi, who is majoring in secondary education at Wayne State.
“I didn’t know what to expect throughout the year, and I didn’t know what to expect going into that meet. I got very, very nervous and did not dive well, whatsoever. That really motivated me this year.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.