Squalicum diver Tori Franzen used to be scared to dive into water. She finished her career at the state meet elegantly flipping and twisting into the same King County Aquatic Center water U.S. Olympians had dived in five months earlier during Olympic trials.
Franzen left with a state title. She did so thanks to an Olympic-size performance.
Each year, Franzen inched closer to her end-goal: a Class 2A state title. She placed fourth as a freshman, third as a sophomore, second as a junior and set a new 2A meet record her senior year, scoring nearly 80 more points than the second-place finisher.
"It was so great," Franzen said of becoming a diving champ in a phone interview. "It was a great way to end my senior year. It was such a good feeling finally getting my goal I have worked so hard for."
Franzen is The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Swimmer of the Year, and Sehome coach Don Helling, who led the Mariners to a fourth-place state trophy, has been selected Coach of the Year.
Despite being an aerial acrobat growing up an avid gymnast, diving head first into water always frightened Franzen. It wasn't even her idea to go out for swimming. Her friend Anna Hawes persuaded her as a freshman.
"I could never dive head first into water," Franzen said. "I was terrified of it. When I was little my sister tried to teach me, and I couldn't do it. I was pressured at practice, so I had to do it."
Turns out Franzen's learned abilities through gymnastics, and the mechanics of diving, were a perfect match.
"Tori is just so naturally gifted, and she is very, very athletic, and so things in diving came easy to her," Bellingham school district dive coach Taylor Sundstrom said in a phone interview. "She had the determination to try things her body would allow her to do, because she is just in tune with what her body is doing."
Franzen credits her nine years of competitive gymnastics for her ability to pick up diving so fast.
Two and half months after she started, she stood fourth on the podium at the 2009 Class 2A State Swimming and Diving Championships.
"Through gymnastics, I got all my basic body awareness and learned how to flip," Franzen said. "That made it a lot easier. It was nice knowing that I knew how to control myself."
Regardless of Franzen's background, Sundstrom was extremely impressed by her ability to pick up diving so fast.
"I can imagine being a gymnast, she is used to landing on her feet, but doing it the other way into water her first year, she still got fourth in state." Sundstrom said.
Franzen said she never got discouraged being so close to winning a state title but never taking home the top prize. She used her second-place finish in 2011 as motivation for her senior year.
Although the diving state winner, third place and fourth place graduated after Franzen's junior year, she didn't take anything for granted, either.
"I was definitely more motivated this year," she said. "I went to camp in Indiana for two weeks over the summer and spent a bunch of time diving. I was really more motivated this year than I have been in the past. I think there were people pushing me no matter what. I was just going out and tying my hardest against other people and competed against myself, trying to break my records. That was a lot of my challenge this year."
In doing so, she put together an ultra-difficult 11-dive program for the 2012 Swimming and Diving Championships. The slate included a dive called a two and a half, forward, two and a half. It was one she hadn't perfected all year.
Swimmers must complete two dives from five disciplines, which include forward, back, reverse inward and twist. The 11th dive is an elective dive of the competitor's choice from one of the other categories.
"Actually, we weren't planning on doing the (two and a half, forward, two and a half)," Sundstrom said. "We had practiced it at the state facility the day before the meet, and she was nailing the dive, so we put it on her list. She didn't score well on it before. I think she got two's on it, so it was one of those gambles."
Franzen nailed the dive on the first day of competition. It was key in helping her build a near insurmountable lead heading into the final day of competition.
"It was amazing," Sundstrom said. "I think she scored six's and seven's on it, which is incredible for high-school diving. She came close to 40 points, and she was averaging around 25 points per dive. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was judging."
It was the perfect way to cap of a brilliant career and senior season.
Franzen said she would like to dive in college if the right opportunity presents itself. She's looked at a few school and has talked to a few coaches but is still deciding her future. She also in line to contend for a pole vaulting state title in track and field. Last year she tied teammate Kirsten Webber's mark of 11-feet, 9-inches, but Webber won because Franzen made more attempts at clearing a 12-foot mark both were unable to clear.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
THROUGH THE YEARS
The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Swimming Athlete of the Year winners:
2012: Tori Franzen, Squalicum
2011: Carlee Bock, Squalicum
2010: Carlee Bock Squalicum
2009: Ali Fisher, Sehome
2008: Jessica Vlasic, Squalicum
2007: Jessica Vlasic, Squalicum
2006: Kelly Runestrand, Squalicum
2005: Kelly Runestrand, Squalicum
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.