Moments after the final dive of his storied high school diving career, Bennet Loving got caught up in the moment.
“I was about to cry actually because I came out of the water and I saw my coach tearing up,” the Webster Groves senior said. “I was feeling very gratified. I’ve been working for five years and I’m just happy.”
Loving had just wrapped up his third successive Class 1 one-meter diving championship that Saturday morning in November at St. Peters Rec-Plex and with it earned the honor of being this year’s Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys swimming and diving athlete of the year.
Loving became the first diver to win three consecutive state titles since Hickman’s David Bonuchi did it from 2007-2009 and he is the second Statesmen diver to accomplish the feat after Steve Braun did it from 1977-1979.
“It’s very well-deserved for somebody who has worked really hard for many, many years now,” Webster Groves diving coach Leah Callahan said.
People are also reading…
The very first state meet dive of Loving’s career didn’t go so hot. His score put him in 16th place after that first dive, which is the cutoff point after Round 6 to make the finals. He rebounded within the meet to actually take the lead before settling for a third-place debut on the state diving stage, just eight points behind the winner.
“I was really happy about getting third, especially as a freshman,” he said. “It took a lot of work to get there and I fought really hard for that spot.”
That finish set the stage for what Loving accomplished the next three years.
He won the state title as a sophomore by just more than 15 points before compiling an impressive 515.90 points as a junior to win his second successive diving crown and capping it off this year with another high point total (499.05) and a massive margin of victory (135.55).
“He’s really always challenged himself,” Callahan said. “He could have plateaued and stayed where he was because he was being really successful, but he definitely pushed himself. He got harder dives, he became a leader, he’s one of our captains this year. Watching him grow personally and also with diving has been really exciting.”
The higher point totals Loving scored his last three years were a direct result of ramping up his game on the diving board, although he didn’t want his huge lead in his final meet to creep into his mind and mess up his grand finish.
“Some of the dives I performed today were difficult and I never ever thought I’d be doing those dives,” he said right after the state meet. “I try not to get in my own head when I think about the lead and stuff. I think if I just keep it how I’m going, I’ll be just fine.”
Two other Webster Groves divers also competed at state, with sophomore John Lewis making the finals and finishing 12th, while junior John Trueman fell just short after the first round of cuts and ended up 22nd.
Callahan said her three-time state champion has been instrumental in the younger divers’ development and success.
“He’s been really, really helpful with my other boys and I think he plays a large role in their success,” she said. “And I think it’s been exciting for him, too, to pass his knowledge along.”
Loving’s start in diving came after he moved to Webster Groves six years ago. He gave the sport a try, fell in love with it and wanted to take it a little bit farther, so he took some year-round lessons and was hooked for life.
“I like the competition aspect of it because you have to have a strong mental game,” he said. “Also, it just keeps you on your toes all the time. You don’t know if somebody’s going to mess up or you might mess up, so you’re kind of always on the edge of your seat.”
Loving wants to dive in college and is still in the process of sifting through his options. Wherever he ends up, his coach feels he will be successful at the next level.
“His attitude and his work ethic is going to be really helpful for him no matter what he does or where he goes,” Callahan said. “I think once he gets to college level, he’ll just keep growing.”
When Loving gets to where he’s going at the next level, he can look back fondly on his rapid rise to success with the Statesmen.
“It’s a little bit unbelievable,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think I would really be here. When I first started diving five years ago, I never thought I’d end up a three-time state champion.”
2022 All-Metro boys swimming & diving first team
Jake Hansen, senior, Parkway Central
Hansen secured a trio of gold medals for the Class 1 team champion Colts. He captured an individual gold by winning the 100-yard breaststroke and was part of Central’s title-winning 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams. Hansen also finished third in the 200 individual medley. His state final time in the breaststroke was the area’s fastest and his state final time in the IM was the area’s third-best.
Will Jost, junior, Parkway Central
Jost is the only swimmer to come home from the state championships with four gold medals as he helped lead the Colts to their first team state title in 44 years. One year after a heartbreaking disqualification in the Class 1 50-yard freestyle final, Jost rebounded to win the event this year and he also won the 100 free title. He was also a key part of the Colts’ winning 200 medley and 200 free relay teams.
Matthew Judkins, junior, Chaminade
Judkins took home four medals from the Class 1 state meet, including three golds. He defended his title in the 100-yard butterfly and also set a new state record in the preliminaries. He also captured the 200 individual medley championship. Judkins’ third gold came when he swam the anchor leg to rally the Red Devils to the 400 freestyle relay title. He also was part of Chaminade’s sixth-place 200 medley relay squad.
JD Suarez, senior, Kirkwood
Suarez came away with four medals from the Class 2 state meet for a third successive season for the Pioneers, whose third-place finish was the area’s only team trophy in Class 2. He won the 200-yard individual medley championship and had a second-place finish in the 100 butterfly. He also helped Kirkwood’s 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams to a pair of runner-up showings.
Graham Zucker, senior, Clayton
Zucker was one of three Class 1 swimmers to earn two first-place finishes. He won championships in both the 200-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke finals. He picked up a third medal as part of the Greyhounds’ seventh-place 400 freestyle relay squad. Zucker’s state final times in both the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke were the best in the area this season.
2022 All-Metro boys swimming & diving second team
Daniel Budiman, junior, Parkway West
Budiman had a quartet of top-three finishes at the Class 1 state meet. He posted matching runner-up efforts in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke events and he was also was a part of the Longhorns’ third-place 200 and 400 free relay teams.
Carter Crook, junior, Parkway South
Crook grabbed four medals at the Class 1 state meet. He finished third in the 100-yard backstroke and fourth in the 200 individual medley. He was also part of the Patriots’ 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay squads, which posted finishes of second and fourth, respectively.
Trey Cunneen, junior, Chaminade
Cunneen posted a pair of top-three individual performances at the Class 1 state meet with a second straight runner-up finish in the 500-yard freestyle and a third-place effort in the 200 free. He was also part of the Red Devils’ state-champion 400 free relay team and picked up a fourth medal when their 200 free relay squad came in fourth.
Max Marcus, junior, Kirkwood
Marcus captured four medals at the Class 2 state meet, including the 500-yard freestyle championship. He also had a fourth-place finish in the 200 free. He was also part of the Pioneers’ 400 free relay team that finished second and 200 free relay team that placed third.
Josh Schultz, senior, Chaminade
Schultz had a hugely-successful Class 1 state meet in his final season. He posted matching runner-up finishes in the 100 and 200-yard freestyle finals. He was also part of the Red Devils’ state-champion 400 free relay team as well as their 200 free relay squad that came in fourth.
2022 All-Metro boys swimming & diving third team
Jack Favazza, junior, Marquette
Favazza posted a pair of top-four finishes at the Class 2 state meet. He had a third-place effort in the 200-yard individual medley and a fourth-place showing in the 100 breaststroke.
Jeffrey Ge, junior, MICDS
Ge turned in a runner-up performance in the Class 2 100-yard breaststroke final and was also a member of the Rams’ fifth-place 200 medley relay team.
Jeremiah Koenig, junior, Parkway South
Koenig had a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke and a sixth-place showing in the 200 freestyle at the Class 1 state meet. He was also part of the Patriots’ second-place 200 medley and fourth-place 400 free relay teams.
Caleb Warner, junior, Lafayette
Warner finished fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke and sixth in the 200 individual medley at the Class 1 state meet. He also took home medals as a member of the Lancers’ 200 medley and 200 free relay teams that finished third and eighth, respectively.
Quin Wolff, senior, Parkway Central
Wolff co-captained the Colts to the Class 1 team championship and picked up four individual medals along the way. He finished sixth in the 100-yard freestyle and seventh in the 200 free and was a key member of the Colts’ title-winning 200 free relay team and runner-up 400 free relay squad.