Timing is everything in diving. Rotate a millisecond late, move an arm a split-second early, and landing in the water can be quite painful.
Two years ago current Tuscarora High School junior Shane Miller had never dared thrust himself off a springboard into a well of water. His desire to join several of his friends on the Titans swimming and diving team, however, led him to the pool deck.
But his cronies, thankfully he said, had other ideas.
“I wanted to be swimmer. I told my friends I was going to do swimming and they were like, 'Oh, well, you did gymnastics when you were little, why I don't you try diving?'” Miller said.
Sonja Sienkowski, who coaches divers from Tuscarora, Frederick and Gov. Thomas Johnson, said Miller's natural talent was palpable.
While Miller said his gymnastics background has provided him with some obstacles, his timing in the air benefitted greatly.
“He had very good body awareness,” Sienkowski said. “When he was younger he had done a bunch of trampoline work and I could tell right away. He had that coordination and body awareness. That's when I said, 'Shane, you have talent here, I think you should try something outside our high school season.'”
In the spring of 2011 Miller joined the Montgomery Dive Club in neighboring Montgomery County where many of the Washington Metropolitan area's top talent trains.
Within months, Miller was Frederick County's best.
Miller won the county and 3A/2A/1A North Region diving titles and finished fifth in a field of 12 divers at the inaugural state championship, an impressive feat given the national-caliber competition.
“That was so much motivation. I didn't think I would even make it to states, to be honest. After I was undefeated during [the regular season] I thought maybe it was in reach,” Miller said. “I dive a lot better when I'm competing against people who are better than me. That showed me what I was capable of.”
In the year since that remarkably speedy ascent into the upper echelon of state diving, Miller has become a national-level diver in his own right, qualifying for last summer's Junior National Diving Championships.
Despite Miller's success, Sienkowski said she is most impressed with her charge's humbleness.
At a time where many of the county's top swimmers and divers are bypassing the high school season — the county has come down hard on state rules regarding participation in practice and competition — Miller has made his commitment to Sienkowski and his Tuscarora teammates clear.
At least three times a week he doubles up on club and high school practice.
“It's not been easy. He has been tired, I can tell you that. He will go down and do a four-hour club practice and then come to me and still dive,” Sienkowski said.
Miller said three months of fatigue is worth supporting his teammates and representing his school, encouraging some of the younger divers who train with Sienkowski at the Frederick High School pool to pursue their own dreams within the sport.
Miller himself has grand aspirations. He has been in touch with several NCAA Division I coaches and Sienkowski said she is confident he will obtain at least a partial scholarship — full scholarships in men's diving are few and far between.
He has tremendous technique, Sienkowski said, and is only becoming more powerful.
She added that he could be exactly what college coaches are searching for, someone with a fantastic foundation who is still learning and can be molded into what a given program needs.
Miller should continue to blossom after high school, Sienkowski said.
She expects him to go relatively untested through the county and region competitions this winter but said he has his sites on a Top 3 performance at the season-ending state championship.
Pretty impressive for someone who hadn't jumped off a diving board before November of 2010.
“Shane's technique ... he has a great hurdle, a great approach, he keeps his shoulders back, he is nice and straight up in the air and has great body position,” Sienkowski said. “I'm looking forward to seeing what [Miller] can pull together this year. He has a very good shot at doing incredibly well [at states].”