Penn Hills sophomore dives into new sport with swim team

Sunday, January 16, 2022 | 11:01 AM

The fear factor of flipping through the air was lessened for Gabby Pernatozzi when she stepped out on the diving board. The Penn Hills sophomore started with the swim team a month into the season but had translatable skills from other sports.

“I thought this would be easier than gymnastics because you don’t go head first into the floor when you are doing gymnastics,” Pernatozzi said. “There were times I ended up overflipping when I first started diving, and I would smack hard into the water.”

Pernatozzi has fit in perfectly on a Penn Hills swimming team that is learning as it goes. The Indians haven’t seen any athletes hit any of the qualifying times for the WPIAL championships yet. However, Indians coach Nick Page said he has seen a lot of gradual progress from many members of the team. Penn Hills has 20 kids out for the team, but half of them have been out with covid-19.

“We’ve had a lot of athletes who are eking out better times,” Page said. “We don’t have anybody who went away over the summer and decided they wanted to be an Olympian and showed up having dropped a lot of time. We have a lot of kids who have shown steady improvement.”

Lauren Sipple is one of those athletes who has been progressing to the WPIAL cut in the breaststroke. Luke Hoolahan also is close to the consideration time in the 50 freestyle.

“We are still hoping someone will be able to make a qualifying time,” Page said. “We still have a lot of people out with covid, and the WPIAL still has a limited number of spots available.”

Pernatozzi, who also competes on the volleyball team and does cheerleading, decided to attempt diving for the first time in her life because it fit her schedule. With no other activities going on during the winter, she figured with a gymnastics background that diving would be a good fit.

That didn’t mean the former Level 7 gymnast wouldn’t find her share of struggles.

“I started off doing regular dives, and that took a lot longer than I thought,” Pernatozzi said. “I got better and was able to go for bigger things.”

The most complicated dive Pernatozzi has pulled off thus far is a 1½ somersault half. What helped Pernatozzi get better is the help of her coaches. After Pernatozzi was able to perform dives successfully, she could notice all the improvement.

“I’m hard on myself and like the challenge,” Pernatozzi said. “I have to keep working hard to get better. I want to push myself to do the best I can.”


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