Walter Johnson High School senior diver Katie Young said she enters every meet with two main goals: Don't fail a dive and don't get last. While even the best occasionally do the former, there is about a 100 percent chance of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County recruit accomplishing the latter.
“I think those standards are low enough for me to get by on,” Young said jokingly.
In all seriousness, though, walking to the edge of a diving board during championship season in Maryland and Montgomery County in particular, can be quite daunting. With athletes the likes of two-time defending Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving champion Kali Becker of Winston Churchill, teammate and defending state champion Mashal Hashem and recent Northwest graduate MacKenzie Cornell (Penn State), Washington, D.C. area high school championship meets might as well be national competitions. Fortunately for Young, who said she had been intimidated by national-level meets earlier in her diving tenure, she pays little attention to what her peers are doing.
“My main goal is more individual,” she said.
After a 10th-place finish at Metros her freshman year, Young set her sights on another top 10 finish in 2012 and succeeded with a repeat 10th-place performance. Last year she upped the stakes to top five and took third, just four points behind Hashem in second place and ahead of Cornell.
“I kind of surprised myself in how well I did and it made me realize I can do well,” Young said. “I know I'm not the best but it was nice.”
Breaking into the top two will be tough but by no means out of reach and every extra point Young earns is crucial in resurgent Walter Johnson's attempt to break into the county's top three girls' teams — the Wildcats have only lost to defending Metros and state champion Thomas S. Wootton (by only 11 points Saturday) and Churchill.
“When I need someone to win diving [in a dual meet] I put her in, I can pretty much rely on her to win,” Walter Johnson coach Jamie Grimes said. “Diving counts as much as an individual event so it's important to win everything we can.”
Young is reliable because she is consistent. While she admittedly might not be as flashy as someone like Becker, she also doesn't really hit many lows, either. Her ascent into the upper echelon of area diving has been a gradual process in general, she said, but more drastic in the last year thanks to renewed commitment to the sport she only started in fifth grade because her mother signed her up for it.
A member of the Montgomery Dive Club's national training group in middle school, Young's aversion to big, national level championships led her to burn out and drop a level to the high school training group. By sophomore year she was back to national level training and it was evident in her jump from 10th to third at one of the country's top high school competitions. What made her change her mind?
“I was still doing summer league and there was something that made me want to get better,” Young said. “I was like, 'I could probably get better if I dive more.'”
Evident in her poise during last year's third-place performance at Metros, Young has learned to handle the pressure situations — she said she tries to think less and just go. She credits support from her friends in the county's close knit diving community with easing her nerves at big meets, too.
Young came in at a time when Walter Johnson needed a top-level diver; former Metros champion Annie Kastler graduated in 2012. With a largely freshman and sophomore diving contingent behind her this year, Young has taken on a more prominent leadership role, Grimes said.
Young's final high school championship season kicks off with the Division I meet Feb. 1. Chances are she'll finish a lot closer to first this postseason than last.
“When [Young] was a freshman, she was a little intimidated to go out there and dive but she quickly learned she belongs at the top and can compete with these girls,” Grimes said.