North Allegheny divers follow different routes to WPIAL success

By:
Saturday, March 2, 2024 | 11:01 AM


A gymnastics background can certainly help, but North Allegheny diving coach Patti McClure says she’s first looking for a kid with a “kamikaze” attitude.

“I look at my divers and say, ‘Find me a friend who doesn’t care how they land in the water,’” McClure said with a laugh. “It’s my job to make sure they don’t hit the board, but you can hit the water, and it’s just water. It hurts for a little bit and then it goes away. I can teach anybody who’s not afraid.”

North Allegheny has had an elite diving program under McClure’s watch, but not everyone who earns a medal leaping from the 1-meter board comes to the sport at a young age. In fact, the Tigers swept the first three places in the WPIAL 3A girls championship Feb. 24 with junior Lola Malarky taking gold, junior Juliet Hood silver and sophomore Maggie Lapina bronze — and they came to the sport in various ways.

“Maggie is a brand new diver who quit gymnastics in April and started diving in the summertime,” McClure said. “Juliet quit gymnastics last season to focus on diving, and Lola is really the only one who has been diving full-time for more than a year.”

Add in sophomore Ethan Maravich, a recent swimmer-turned-diver who placed fifth in the WPIAL boys championship, and there is clearly more than one route to success, McClure said.

This was the third time in five years that North Allegheny swept the top three spots in the WPIAL girls championship, a feat also accomplished in 2020 and ‘21. One constant for the program is McClure, who has coached diving for 35 years, and for more than two decades at North Allegheny.

“Gosh, I’m not sure it’s me, because if they’re not buying what I’m selling, it doesn’t work,” she said. “And there are times it just doesn’t work, so it’s really a credit to the kids. They want it as badly as I want it for them.”

Malarky was the fourth North Allegheny girl to win WPIAL gold in diving, joining Nikki Joa (1993), three-time winner Jaime Tomazich (1994-96) and four-time winner Christina Shi (2020-23). The four won nine titles combined.

Malarky achieved a winning score of 510.55, making her the 13th WPIAL Class 3A champion to break the 500-point mark. McClure said Malarky was a basketball player who started diving for North Allegheny around sixth grade as a member of the school’s intramural program.

“Lola is just super powerful, and she rides the board really well,” said McClure, who is optimistic the junior will also win a state title this winter.

Malarky placed third at states a year ago behind two seniors, including former teammate Shi, the 2023 PIAA champion. Malarky’s top challenger this time is Conestoga junior Avery Hillier, who placed fourth a year ago.

The PIAA swimming and diving championships are March 13-16, at Bucknell.

“We’re hoping Lola can win states and we believe absolutely that she can,” McClure said. “She has got to be confident.”

Hood will try to improve on her seventh-place finish at states a year ago.

“Juliet is an unbelievable competitor,” McClure said. “She had no business getting seventh last year but had nothing to lose. When she needs to turn it on, she does.”

Malarky won the WPIAL title by more than 40 points. Her 11 dives included more difficult attempts than her competitors, which drives her score higher, so McClure said she was confident the junior would win.

However, she said there was no guarantee NA would sweep the top three until Hood scored 470.15 points and Lapina finished with 412.90. Mars senior Emily Mueller took fourth (390.55) and earned the final state qualifying spot.

McClure said former gymnasts like Hood and Lapina have skills that translate well to diving. But years of tumbling might also make some newcomers hesitant to fall head-first into the water.

“They far exceeded my expectations (at WPIALs),” McClure said. “By the end of the night, I think I was in tears.”

Once the calendar flips to February, North Allegheny practices are tailored to simulate a championship meet.

The athletes must attempt each of their 11 dives once, and if they achieve the required score set in advance by the NA coaches, then that diver is done for the day. But if their score falls short, they repeat that dive in round two of practice — and McClure admits she’s a tough judge.

“By the week of WPIALs, you come in and you’re doing 11 dives and you’re going home,” she said. “Because you don’t get five chances to get it right at WPIALs. You get one.”

Early-season practices are physical workouts while late-season practices are mental challenges.

“That,” McClure said, “is probably the most effective thing we have changed in the last 10 years.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

Tags:

More High School Sports

With ace Cheyenne Piper putting up zeroes, Ligonier Valley jumps back into contention
What to watch for in WPIAL sports on April 24, 2024: Section contenders square off in 3A softball
High school scores, summaries and schedules for April 23, 2024
23 WPIAL players picked to 2024 all-state boys basketball team, including 2 players of the year
High school roundup for April 23, 2024: Chartiers Valley junior no-hits Elizabeth Forward