Sometimes even a reigning state champion can use a little help from an unexpected source.
The Palo Verde boys swimming and diving team is targeting its fifth consecutive state title this year. If the Panthers earn that championship it might be with the help of sophomore diver Conner Wattles.
“He has a gymnastics background and he did a little diving through the summer and having the background he has helps,” Palo Verde coach Brent Gonzalez said. “He’s really taken off to it.”
Before the season started, Gonzalez tried to keep his expectations in check for his boys team, but he also was not expecting to get the points he has gotten this season from Wattles.
“I remember seeing his first score and thinking it was pretty good. And then this last week he scored almost 200 in six dives and it’s looking like he could go to state in just three months of diving,” Gonzalez said.
Before the season, Wattles had very little experience with diving and no competitive experience whatsoever.
Diving is not a family sport, but his sister did spend a year on the Palo Verde swim team when she was a freshman.
“This is the first year I started diving with a lot of people that know what they’re doing and kind of go from just messing around to really improving my skills,” Wattles said.
At the region meet, which started with prelims on Monday and continues with the finals on Saturday, Wattles will have to do something he has done just once so far this season — perform 11 dives in a single meet.
“Some of my dives aren’t as good,” Wattles said. “I have 11 down but I haven’t really practiced many of them.”
Wattles has performed extremely well in the dual meets this season, taking home wins in every 1-meter springboard event in which he’s competed.
It will be more difficult for the young diver when he has to complete dives he is not as comfortable with in the region meet to qualify for state.
“This is a real test but it shows how quick he’s been able to learn,” Gonzalez said. “Because he’s been able to learn 11 dives in this short amount of time where he’s still at a competitive level. He’s not just going out there; he knows how to do them.
The Panthers have had the target on their back for five years now as they continue to win state titles. But the sophomore doesn’t think about that as he tries to help his team win another one this year.
“I don’t really feel that pressure,” Wattles said. “I know that I’m helping out because I’m the only diver. I definitely didn’t realize it as much coming into it. I thought it would just be great to get a varsity letter, but now I realize I can go to state and contribute to their score.”
Contact reporter Bill Slane at email@example.com or 702-380-4559. Follow @bill_slane on Twitter.