Knoch divers ready to springboard into WPIAL meet

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Sunday, January 13, 2019 | 8:15 PM


Last spring, Knoch was one of only two schools to have two divers make the PIAA Class AA finals at Bucknell.

Kristin Jerich and Aryanna Napora survived the first two rounds to finish 11th and 16th, respectively. They are back and hoping for bigger things this season as they attempt to finish in the top six at WPIALs and return to states.

“WPIALs should be interesting,” said Jerich, a senior, noting the competitiveness of the event. “I know there are a lot of new kids, freshmen, who are supposed to be good and want to do well. Others have improved so much. I am just trying to better myself so I can get one of those six (PIAA qualifying) spots.”

Napora, a junior, placed fourth at WPIALs last year, and Jerich took fifth. It was Napora’s second trip to states and the first for Jerich.

They are among a group hoping to knock off defending Class AA champion Anna Vogt, a senior from Ringgold who went on to earn third at states.

Shoulder issues, which required surgeries, snuffed out Jerich’s sophomore experience at WPIALs in 2017.

“This is the first year in three years I feel Kristin is physically good,” coach Ken Bedford said. “She’s strong, and she’s looking to build on her qualifying marks. The shoulder has held up, and she’s happy about that.”

Napora’s progression, however, has hit a snag as she is battling a form of vertigo that is interfering with her ability to properly train and compete.

“Her vision is going left to right with the vertigo, and you spin forward to backward off the board,” Bedford said. “She is getting confused. She hasn’t regressed, but we’re kind of stalled out while we figure out how to center her progress from there. She’s seen several specialists and gone to physical therapy. We’re hoping to get more answers soon so she can compete at WPIALs and be at her best.”

Napora said patience has been the key while dealing with the frustration of missed opportunities to perform and progress. She said she is confident of a having chance to again qualify for states.

“Being already qualified for WPIALs is that safety net to know when I come back, I just have to strengthen my WPIAL list. Everything else is done,” she said. “There’s a little more comfort in having to take this break. My goal is still intact to go to states.”

Napora made her PIAA debut as a freshman two years ago after a sixth-place finish at WPIALs. She missed the state finals (top 16) by eight points, taking 18th.

Jerich said she and Napora benefit from additional training three to four times a week in a program for high school divers at Westminster.

Senior Vanessa Robb, who has battled back from an ankle injury, is hoping to break through and make it to states this year. She finished ninth at WPIALs two years ago and 15th last year.

“Vanessa looks as strong as anyone on the team,” Bedford said. “If she can stay healthy and on track, she can do some special things this year.”

The WPIAL AA boys and girls diving championships are Feb. 22 at South Park.

Freshman Kevin Golden also will be at the WPIAL meet. Bedford said Golden has improved since beginning on the board in preseason workouts.

“From the start, you could see something special,” Bedford said. “He still has a ways to go, but he has the right attitude.”

Golden was introduced to the sport at Penn Valley Athletic Club in Butler. Several years of gymnastics experience and bounding around on a family trampoline provided an early foundation for the skill he has shown this season.

“I’ve always been a visual learner, so watching people who are better than me has helped me a lot,” Golden said. “To compete at WPIALs in my first year is such a great opportunity. It’s also fun to think about how I can improve over the next couple of years if I continue to put in the work.”

Bedford said he appreciates the effort and willingness to learn and improve from additional team members Justin Walls, a freshman, and Krystle Ekas, a sophomore.

“For a school that doesn’t even have a pool, to have this much success in swimming and diving is special,” Napora said. “I am pretty proud of that.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.

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