Returning coach helps Quaker Valley divers reach new heights

Sunday, February 12, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Quaker Valley diving coach Becca Kirby witnessed their extraordinary potential years ago.

Kirby coaches the QV divers, particularly star pupils Ruby Olliffe and Ruby Krotine, both sophomores, and junior Katie Blackmer.

Back in January 2017, Kirby started a youth diving program through the Sewickley Valley YMCA.

“Katie Blackmer and Ruby Krotine were both part of that first dive session I held and continued to dive with me until I left in August 2019 for school,” Kirby said. “Katie was 11 at the time, and Ruby was 10.”

In the fall of 2017, Ruby Olliffe joined the program. Kirby coached her as well as the two other girls until she left for school in August 2019.

Kirby served as dive coach at Quaker Valley for the 2018-2019 season.

“While I didn’t coach them the last three years, I definitely kept in touch and always checked in on how they were doing,” Kirby said. “At ages 11 and 12, the three of them were performing dives that would be competitive at the high school level, so I knew if they stuck with it, they would definitely excel when they finally got to high school.”

All three qualified for the PIAA Class 2A championship last year, and all three are expected to make significant noise in the postseason this year.

Quaker Valley was the only team to have a trio of divers qualify for states in 2022. Krotine and Olliffe were two of only three freshmen to qualify for the state finals.

When the energetic Kirby left for college, Vernon Yenick, who was Kirby’s coach in high school, took over as QV’s dive coach for three seasons.

“When I left, Vernon took over both my youth program and Quaker Valley diving,” Kirby said. “Around Dec. 1, he asked if I would be willing to take over the Quaker Valley position since I had just recently moved back to Pittsburgh.

“For me, it was exciting to come back and work with the same girls. In a way, I feel as though we are finishing what we started back in 2017.”

The Quaker Valley girls repeated as team champion with 403 points at the MAC meet held Feb. 3 at West Allegheny.

“It was a great meet for us,” QV coach John Nemeth said. “The girls took first for the second year in a row, and the boys took fourth, which was a jump from last year. I was happy with how they raced and competed. We have two more dual meets and then it’s onto WPIALs and PIAAs.”

Blackmer finished first in the girls diving competition with a total score of 205.55. Olliffe and Krotine placed fifth and sixth.

“It was fantastic to see the Quaker Valley girls win the championship again, and I was excited to place first,” Blackmer said. “All three Quaker Valley divers finished in the top six, earning 47 points toward our team total.

“The QV diving team works really hard at practices, and we constantly encourage and challenge each other. Working together the way we do just makes us all better divers. Swim coach John Nemeth and dive coach Becca Kirby are terrific. They work to make sure we have enough practice time and constantly work with the team on improving our technique.”

In the swimming events, QV junior Emily Connors won twice, taking first place in the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, and the QV girls 200 and 400 freestyle relayers also were gold medalists.

Other individual point-producers for the girls team were seniors Emma Smith, Ella Fuener and Zoey Murawski, junior Kate Hines, sophomores Mia Fusco, Margaret Getty, Kwilai Karto and Paige Juliano and freshman Alexa Westwood.

For the Quaker Valley boys, senior Alex Wagner corralled first place in the 200-yard individual medley.

Other individual point-producers included seniors Ashton Ragoowansi and Spencer Wiehe, juniors Wesley Riddle and Jack Szuba, sophomores Thomas Fuener and Ryan Steinforth and freshmen Austin Young and Tyler Bell.

All three QV diving specialists — Olliffe, Blackmer and Krotine — placed in the top 10 at the recent Beaver Bobcat Invitational against many of the leading divers in Western Pennsylvania.

Olliffe led the way with a third-place finish. Blackmer ended up fifth and Krotine placed ninth.

“I’m super proud of what I accomplished,” Olliffe said. “Third place is amazing considering all the fantastic divers that attended this meet. With having a major setback with my back injury, I never thought I would do as well as I did at such a high level.

“Everyone on my team did amazing. Everyone put in a ton of effort to get to where they are now, and I think that’s the most important part to recognize. Everyone put their best foot forward, and I think it showed by how well we performed.”

The Beaver invite was the first chance this season for Blackmer to compete in an 11-dive meet.

“And also my first chance to compete against many divers from 3A,” she said. “I was so happy to place fifth and excited that all of QV divers placed in the top 10. We all work hard at practices and encourage each other, so it’s great when we all have a good meet.

“Our high school dive season is going really well. I’m happy to have Becca Kirby back. She’s been great about working with me on my dive lists and helping me improve on my dives. I’ve been lucky to have lot of fantastic coaches at Quaker Valley, including our former coach Vernon Yenick.”

Olliffe registered her best 11-dive score of 437 at the Beaver invitational.

“My goal is just to get comfortable with my optionals so I’m more prepared for WPIALs,” Olliffe said. “I think everyone on my team is doing phenomenal and they’ve all come so far. Katie Blackmer has really stepped up her game this season, Ruby Krotine has gotten so many new dives, and (sophomore) Gia Kuyler has improved so much in so little time.

“I think my major goals have changed a lot since the beginning of the season due to my back injury. My goals, as of right now, are to get comfortable with my dives, slowly improve them and dive with little to no pain. I’m really excited to just go to WPIALs and states, have fun and try to beat my scores from last year.”

Blackmer also racked up her highest 11-dive meet score at Beaver with a 405.65-point total.

“My goals this year are to continue to improve on the dives I’m currently doing and to work on adding a few new dives to my list,” Blackmer said. “I’m just trying to get in as much diving as possible.”

When not practicing with the Quakers, Blackmer finds time to work on her diving techniques at Pitt with the Pittsburgh Diving Club.


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