WILKES-BARRE — Try as she might to ignore it, defending district diving champ Riley Williams couldn’t keep from looking up at the scoreboard.
Someone was gaining on her.
And in the final round, Madeline Ross caught all the way up.
Ross, a junior from Dallas High School, rallied into first place during her first dive of the final round Saturday, then hung onto that lead to earn her first trip to states and the girls Class 2A gold medal during the District 2 Diving Championships at the Wyoming Valley CYC.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Ross said, “considering last year I didn’t go to states by (less than) four points. This year, I really wanted to have a chance.”
She made the most of it, finishing with a career-best 391.30 points to edge Holy Redeemer’s Williams, who finished with a silver medal and 383.45 points. Both girls will represent District 2 at the PIAA Swimming and Diving competition next month.
Wyoming Seminary’s Michael Bruno and Wyoming Area’s Joe Earl will join them.
Bruno won the District 2 Class 2A boys title with a score of 407.80, while Earl captured the competition’s silver medal with a score of 379.00.
In Class 3A girls diving, Pittston Area’s Madi Osticco recovered from a failed dive and moved up a spot in each of the event’s three rounds and won the District 2 title by finishing second overall to Williamsport’s Katie Cassidy.
“I’m excited,” said Osticco, a junior and a first-year diver. “I just tried to think about winning, coming back better and trying my hardest to get a medal.”
Hazleton Area finished with three divers among the top six medalists, as Abby Schneider finished fourth among Class 3A girls, Nicole Dietrich placed fifth and Cassie Longazel was right behind her in sixth place.
Their Cougars teammate Jordi Soto earned a fourth-place district medal in Class 3A boys diving with a score of 329.15, missing a bronze by just 5.25 points.
Williams didn’t miss much during her final high school attempts in the district.
She carried the Class 2A girls lead after the first five dives and the first round of cuts, and held it through the next three dives of the second round while entering the three dives of the finals feeling pretty confident.
“I’m very happy to say I’ll be going to states three times,” Williams said. “To me, that’s an accomplishment. Overall, I’m very happy.”
But her shot at another district gold medal slipped away at the very end, despite a final total of 383.45 points and bettered her district-winning score of 369.40 of 2015.
But when Ross picked up 36 points on her first dive of the finals, a forward 1 1/2 somersault with a degree of difficulty of 1.7, she launched herself into first place and responded to the score with a double-fist pump.
“It was just crazy,” Ross said. “I didn’t expect it.”
Then Ross bolstered her lead with a big finish, hitting a forward double somersault and a back 1 1/2 somersault twist with degrees of difficulty of 2.3 and 2.1, respectively.
And while Williams was solid in her final three attempts, she didn’t have a dive with a difficulty of 2.3 in her program.
“I think it was the degree of difficulty. I didn’t have as much as I liked this year,” Williams said. “I’m just happy I made it to states.”
All the while, Williams couldn’t help watching the rally by Ross.
“I tried not to, but I did see a couple of her really good dives,” Williams said. “I try not to focus on the other divers. It’s very hard not to. I try to put it more on myself. But it’s very hard to do.”
It turns out, the top two Class 2A girls finishers were watching each other.
“It’s hard not to watch when the other girls are diving,” Ross said, “especially the ones you know are really close with you.”
Adding to her anxiety was an odd finals finish, where two other divers weren’t scored during failed dives.
“Of course I think about that,” Ross said. “I’m thinking, ‘I could stay in this place as long as I do well, as long as I don’t mess up. I feel like in diving, that’s the toughest part of the sport. One little thing could throw you out of the running.”
Osticco knows the feeling.
But she also knew how to overcome it.
Some shaky footing on one of her early dives ended up being ruled unsatisfactory and unscored by the judges.
“I almost fell off the board,” Osticco said. “I just wasn’t balanced that well.”
She regained her footing in a hurry, though.
Osticco entered the second (semifinal) round in fourth place, moved to third for the start of the finals and finished second in the region and tops in District 2 with a score of 353.85. That didn’t get her a berth in the state field, which takes only the top Class 3A finisher from the District 2/4 region, but it did earn Osticco the gold medal honor as the best girls finisher in District 2.
“She just got her head back together,” Pittston Area diving coach Alyssa Scatena said. “She’s very good in competition. It was consistency, that’s all it took. And staying confident, even after her little mistake she had.”
District 2 diving championships
2`Riley Williams`Holy Redeemer`Sr.`383.45
5`Sydney Dana`Abington Heights`Jr.`368.75
6`Haily Yakimowicz`Holy Redeemer`So.`340.90
9`Bailey Flannery`Holy Redeemer`Fr.`318.95
12`Natalie Kozar`Abington Heights`Jr.`283.55
13`Mary Strunk`Holy Redeemer`Fr.`203.15
14`Karley Feather`Abington Heights`Jr.`189.00
1`Michael Bruno`Wyoming Seminary`Jr.`407.80
2`Joe Earl`Wyoming Area`Sr.`379.00
2`Madi Osticco`Pittston Area`Jr.`353.85
3`Abby Schneider`Hazleton Area`Jr.`345.60
5`Nicole Dietrich`Hazleton Area`Jr.`296.30
6`Cassie Longazel`Hazleton Area`Jr.`292.90
DQ`Grace Riexinger`Delaware Valley`So.`38.25
1`Colin Florey`Abington Heights`Sr.`418.10
4`Jordi Soto`Hazleton Area`Jr.`329.15
5`Julian Medina`Abington Heights`Jr.`318.80
6`Carter Smith`Abington Heights`Fr.`318.25
7`Liam Naturale`Delaware Valley`So.`311.75
9`Brian Valvada`Delaware Valley`Sr.`291.00
10`Cameron Cleary`Abington Heights`Sr.`271.15
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski