EAST MOLINE – Once Abigayle Ammon learned the fine art of landing on her head, there was no stopping her.
A Newman junior and a first-year member of the Comets swimming team, Ammon put together her finest performance of the season Saturday and won the diving competition at the United Township Sectional.
Up next is the state tournament, slated for Friday and Saturday at New Trier High School in Winnetka. Ammon is the lone area qualifier from the UT Sectional.
“It hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Ammon said. “I’m just so happy to be going to state. That’s what my goal was. I don’t think I’ll be as nervous at state as I was today.”
Ammon finished with an 11-dive score of 353.35 points, well clear of runner-up Kate Weyeneth of Dunlap, who posted a score of 276. Sterling’s Kallie Zuidema finished third at 256.15.
All sectional champions advance to state, along with the top 32 scoring divers from all 16 sectional meets who did not win first place.
Ammon’s previous-best score was 305.15 points, on Nov. 2 at the Northern Illinois Independent Championships, but she left that total in the dust. She added two relatively new dives, an inward 1 1/2, as well as a front double, to her 11-dive repertoire, and when she hit those, it more than put her over the top.
“They had been worked on,” Ammon said of the new dives. “I had completed them before, but they were not as improved as they were today. I just really hit it today.”
It was heady stuff from an athlete who played volleyball her first 2 years at Newman. This past February, her gymnastics coach at the Duis Center, Max Linsday, suggested she give diving a try. She did, loved it, and she had a new fall sport of choice.
There was an adjustment period, however, as she had to ignore some of her gymnastics instincts when it came to diving.
“Nobody told me I had to go toward the board, ever,” Ammon said. “It was a big difference. Also, landing on your head was something different. You’re always taught in gymnastics to land on your feet, and if you don’t land on your feet, it’s not good. It was different to learn to land on your head.”
Some early-season dives, which resembled cannonballs or some other unflattering splash into the pool, she can look at now and laugh.
“My mom and I were watching some of my early dives the other night,” Ammon said. “I asked her, ‘What potential did you ever see in me?’”
Ammon trained with the Sterling team at the Duis Center, as the Sterling YMCA, where Newman practices, does not have a diving board. From 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, she received instruction from Golden Warriors diving coach John Berge, as well as former Newman diver Mary Sue Lemay, a volunteer assistant.
Ammon mixed in easily with the Sterling team, especially the Golden Warriors’ top diver, Zuidema.
“We have the best competition, but we love each other so much,” Ammon said. “It’s the best kind of competition. There’s no evil or trying to get the other person down.”
On Saturday, Ammon raised her game to another level, but she insisted she had no idea how well she was doing. After each dive, and while waiting to dive again, she intentionally looked away from the scoreboard.
“I don’t pay attention to the scores, because that psyches me out,” Ammon said. “I just compete.”
“All through the year, she got more confident with her dives,” Newman coach Gary Miller said. “We knew she had the ability, and she showed it today.”
Top 3 finishers
1. Abigayle Ammon Newman 353.35
2. Kate Weyeneth Dunlap 276
3. Kallie Zuidema Sterling 256.15