Medal-winning Quaker Valley diver taking talents to Idaho

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Sunday, March 31, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The University of Idaho is located in the city of Moscow in the North Central region of the state.

Along with the rest of the Idaho panhandle, Moscow, population 25,000, is in the Pacific Time Zone and sits 2,297 miles from Pittsburgh. The panhandle is bordered by the state of Washington to the west, Montana to the east and the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north.

The school is home to the Idaho Vandals, who compete in the NCAA Division I Big Sky Conference.

It also is where Quaker Valley senior Katie Blackmer will continue her accomplished diving career. She plans to major in marketing on a full scholarship.

“I talked with coaches at several programs, but I really liked the coaches and team at the University of Idaho,” Blackmer said. “At a time when several schools are cutting swim and dive programs, Idaho has done the opposite and is really investing in its athletic programs.

“Attending the University of Idaho gives me the opportunity to study and continue my diving in a beautiful part of the country. I’m excited to have the opportunity to dive for a D1 program in the Western Athletic Conference and compete against divers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington and Utah.”

Blackmer weighed several other college options before choosing Idaho, which has an enrollment exceeding 12,000 with more than 11,000 students on campus. Idaho has the largest campus in the state at 1,585 acres and is in the rolling hills of the Palouse region.

“I would have been open to attending a university closer to home, but I really liked the idea of going away for college,” she said. “Both of my siblings are out west. My brother Nathan is studying at Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington, and my sister Lauren is at Colorado in Boulder. I also was considering schools in North Carolina, Colorado and Ohio.

“The Idaho diving team travels to Vancouver, British Columbia for two weeks of training each year. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to contribute to the women’s diving team at Idaho. I will be spending a lot of time this summer working with my club coach on my 1-, 3- and 5-meter lists, getting ready for my first season at Idaho.”

Quaker Valley diving coach Vernon Yenick said Blackmer received a substantial package from Idaho.

“Katie has chosen the University of Idaho because it is close to her brother and her sister on the West Coast and they offered her a full ride,” he said, “so it was a very, very good deal for tuition. All she needs to pay is room and board.”

The 5-foot-6, 120-pound Blackmer was a three-time WPIAL and PIAA finalist for the Quakers.

Blackmer and juniors Ruby Olliffe and Ruby Krotine were the focus of the QV diving program for the last three seasons and were joined by another junior, Gia Kuyler, in the girls diving program this year.

After Olliffe, Blackmer and Krotine placed second, third and fifth in the WPIAL Class 2A diving finals Feb. 23 at North Allegheny, the QV trio landed in fourth, sixth and 10th at the PIAA championships March 16 at Bucknell.

“Katie, Ruby and I have been diving together since fourth grade,” Krotine said. “With Katie graduating, this was our last year all competing together, so it was really exciting to see the three of us represent Quaker Valley in the top 10. (Head coach Merci McCarthy and diving coach Vernon Yenick) have been an integral part of our success, and we are lucky to have such great coaches at QV.”

Blackmer said she was pleased with her performance at the PIAA meet.

“This year was definitely my favorite at states,” she said. “I was very excited going into states and felt good with my dive list. Unfortunately, I had some difficulty with my last dive. I was able to do well enough in the final round to place sixth. I was pleased with my performance overall.”

Blackmer finished fifth in the WPIAL the past two seasons before advancing to the PIAA championships. She improved her score at this year’s WPIAL event by three points over last year’s 401.95.

“I was excited to place third at WPIALs this year,” Blackmer said. “It was great having the chance to stand on the podium again with my teammates.

“I have been doing a lot of training year-round with my club diving program, American Flyers, with diving coach Ron Navarra. So, with the guidance of coach Navarra and my high school coach, Vernon Yenick, I (was) well-prepared.”

According to Yenick, Blackmer will be training in college with one of the top coaches in the country, Jim Southerland, who has been at Idaho for nine years.

“Southerland has had many national champions under his tenure,” Yenick said, “and also has trained many kids to be junior Olympians. Katie’s such a great athlete to coach. She listens and makes corrections quickly. She smiles at every practice even if she’s not feeling it. She is friendly, kind, extremely bubbly and really funny.

“I think Katie’s definitely going to be one of the top divers there because she is extremely talented, and she’s just begun to do her best. So, to see her in college, I think it’s going to be something that will no doubt impress many people because she’s coming on strong and will keep coming on stronger every year.”

The Quaker Valley swimmers and divers practice and compete at the Sewickley Valley YMCA. But it was the away meets that were most memorable for Blackmer.

“My fondest moments were of away high school dive meets,” Blackmer said. “The divers … would hang out in the locker room, get ready, and have the most random conversations before going back out to watch the swimmers. I also had a great time at states, hanging out with my swim and dive teammates at our hotel playing poker. I will really miss diving with Ruby, Ruby and Gia.

“I’ve been really fortunate to dive with a program that has consistently been one of the most successful 2A programs in western Pennsylvania. I really appreciate all of the support from QVSD, including our athletic director, Mike Mastroianni, our head coach, Merci McCarthy, and our diving coach, Vernon Yenick.”

QV’s veteran diving coach was proud of the Quakers performance in 2023-24.

“I’m thrilled with the QV girls dive team,” Yenick said. “This is the first time in the school’s history that there have been three QV divers qualifying for the PIAA championships at the same time. And this is the third year in a row for all three of them. They are extremely talented and motivated and have worked hard for this.

“I’ve enjoyed coaching these kids. They are not only elite divers, but close friends and really very funny. It makes practices more fun than stressful, and I definitely laugh often. I am certainly a very proud coach.”

Blackmer, 18, has been a diving specialist for almost a decade.

“I started out as a swimmer at the Edgeworth Club at 7, but transitioned to diving the summer I turned 9,” she said. “I actually got started in diving because coach McCarthy, then the director at Edgeworth, suggested I take up diving and compete with the club team. So, it was a lot of fun having coach McCarthy at the pool for my last year.”

Blackmer has a 4.0 GPA and said her favorite courses have been her English courses along with statistics.

“I also really enjoyed my College in High School course, mass communication and society, this year,” she said.

Blackmer was a four-year letter winner as a QV diver.

“I started diving at Quaker Valler as a freshman in 2020-2021,” she said. ”I’ve continued to improve and build on my skills each year since my freshman year. I was (especially) pleased with my diving at the Beaver Bobcats Invitational in January. There were 23 divers from 14 schools in 2A and 3A. I scored 421.9.”

Blackmer served as captain of the QV dive team this year.

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