Newtown High School divers, this past fall, made a big splash at the state level. The Nighthawks, collectively, recorded the top scores among all of the state’s teams, helping the NHS girls’ swimming and diving team to an overall 17th-place finish among 57 squads in the State Open.
“At the beginning of the season we definitely knew we had one of the more talented groups in the state,” Coach Zach Gauvin said.
But the divers exceeded the goals of the coaching staff. “They went way, way above and beyond the expectations the coaches had,” Gauvin said. “They dove extremely well under pressure.”
Sophomore Kari Djonne placed fourth with a State Open finals score of 366.45, and teammate Noelle Benson, a senior, placed sixth with a score of 338.60. Sophomore Gillian Eckwall, with a score of 299.80, came in 15th, after a preliminary score of 316.70.
In addition to the trio of State Open qualifiers, senior Natalie Poeltl also represented the team in the Class LL state championships. Freshman Sarah MacMullan and her teammates were all South-West Conference championship qualifiers.
Gauvin was assisted by Diving Coach Ryan Cutler, who recently moved on to coach at the Coast Guard Academy. Gauvin takes over diving coach duties and, it appears, has plenty of returning talent in the fold given that four of the five team members are underclassmen.
“I just like competing in the meets and like knowing we’re all going to do well because we all work hard in practices,” Benson said.
Newtown had three divers among the top ten in the Class LL meet, as Djonne came in second, Benson was fourth, and Eckwall placed sixth. Poeltl was 21st in the LL meet. Djonne and Benson recorded a two-three finish in the SWC finals, helping the Nighthawks to fifth place as a team.
Regardless of placements in meets and postseason qualifications, the team members had fun working on their reverse dives, somersaults, and twists.
“It’s rewarding to learn new dives,” Eckwall said.
Djonne and MacMullan benefited from a gymnastics background as they fine-tuned their diving abilities.
“I think gymnastics taught me a lot for controlling my body,” Djonne said. “The movement is really similar.”
A difference, MacMullan points out, is that in diving athletes have a little more freedom to take more risks.
“You can do so much more off the board,” said MacMullan, adding that an awkward landing may not feel the best upon smacking the water but it beats the possibility of breaking a body part with a hard landing caused by an error in gymnastics.
Mistakes off the board were few and far between thanks to all of the effort these athletes put in throughout the campaign.
“It was great. We all did really, really well — and we enjoyed it,” Poeltl said.