Despite the countless dives over years of practice and competition, not to mention the ever-growing number of victories, Haverhill High star Kailyn Aquino admits she’s far from fearless when she’s on the diving board.
“For me, the hardest part about diving is the mental blocks,” said Aquino. “Most of the time, I can physically do a dive or make a correction, but mentally I am scared to death. One wrong move or trip or knee buckle can have you landing in the water wrong or hitting the board. This causes many mental blocks that can be hard to get rid of.”
While battling those mental hurdles, the Haverhill High sophomore has broken out as a star in the pool.
This fall, Aquino took home titles at both Merrimack Valley Conference Diving Invitationals, with scores of 438.35 and 241.35, the MVC Division 1 Meet title (216.45) and earned four victories during the dual meet season.
On Sunday, she’ll go for another title, at the North Sectional Swim Championship on Sunday at WPI. Last fall as a freshman, Aquino placed fourth at North Sectionals with a 379.55.
“Winning the MVC title was amazing,” said Aquino. “The day of MVCs, I was a little stressed, but by the end of the meet I felt great. My biggest competition was my friend Kaleigh O’Brien from Central Catholic. It was so much fun competing against her and everyone else.
“I am so excited for Sectionals. Last year, Sectionals was where I did my best and where I got my high score. I really hope I can get another high score this year. In the end I ultimately want to win the North Sections title too.”
Her diving coach at Haverhill, Becky Driscoll, believes anything is within reach.
“She is an amazing teammate, very supportive and has a great focus this season,” said Driscoll. “She has been putting some pressure on herself to perform well this season, and we’re so far undefeated. We are keeping our fingers crossed for this weekend. She has improved her dives and added new ones to her repertoire.”
Diving caught Aquino’s attention as a youngster.
“When I was around 6 or 7 years old, I was swimming for Cedardale’s summer league team, and would watch the divers flipping off of the diving boards,” she said. “I also wanted to flip off the bards, but only the dive team were allowed to. This is when I first starting going to dive clinics. Eventually I joined the dive team, which is when my coach recommended a dive clinic at Haverhill High. This is where I first met my high school and club coach, Becky.
“Later, I joined Solo Aquatics and have been diving with them and Becky ever since. I originally started competing for AAU around the ages of 10 and 11. I then competed in my first National event when I was 12 at AAU’s Red, White, and Blue Nationals.”
Soon, Aquino developed a true love for diving.
“I definitely enjoyed diving a lot when I first started and it was easy for me to get new dives,” he said. “Then there was a point where the dives were getting much harder. I still enjoyed dive, but felt like I was stuck. But I kept going to practice, and learned what it means to push myself and feel good about small improvements. Then I fell back in love with the sport.
“I think I realized I could be competitive the summer before my freshman season. I had a really good Nationals, which left me with confidence that carried over to my high school season. High school dive was much different then I was use to. Then, I started upping my dives and placing well. With (Division 1) states coming up I really want to do well there. I would love to leave this high school season behind with a great meet.”