Deerfield Dives

By Bob York

So much to do, so little time.

How often does that quandary enter your mind? Well, suck it up … how’d you like to be a diver?

Imagine performing a successful dive in less time than it takes to describe it. And believe me, we’re not talking “Cannonball!” here … we’re talking about something with a lot more challenge and a lot less splash. We’re talking something more refined … more sophisticated … something that takes a little more finesse. We’re talking about something Taylor Clough would describe as a back one-and-a half summersault with two and one half twists.

As close as Clough can estimate, he has between 1.5 to 2 seconds, “once my toes leave the diving board,” to complete such a dive, or another tongue–twister he’s been working on: a forward one and a half summersault with three twists.”

Clough has been perfecting these additions to his repertoire this winter and will tuck them into his already bulging bag of tricks for the trek to Exeter on Saturday where he and his Big Green teammates hope to make a splash at the New England Prep School Swimming and Diving Championships.

“This is what the season is all about,” said the Deerfield Academy junior of the New England meet. And, to date, the diving competition has been all about Clough, as the whirling dervish has earned the title of Chairman of the Board during his first two appearances there.  Last winter, Clough played a key roll in helping Deerfield earn a third-place finish by hoisting the Big Green’s lone gold medal of the meet. As a freshman, he finished first as well, as the Deerfield boys wound up with a silver medal.

Clough, who earned 468.85 points on 11 dives and finished with a 78-point cushion over the second-place finisher, won’t be the only one walking the plank in a green Speedo on Saturday, however.  Kellam Witherington (12) and Wyatt Sharpe (13), who finished ninth and 16th respectively during last year’s boys’ championship, will also be on hand, as will a trio of Deerfield’s diving divas.

Danielle DeNunzio (12) will head up this Big Green contingent, as she is hoping to improve on the fourth-place finish and the 420.70 points she garnered in helping the Deerfield girls post a third-place finish in last year’s team standings. Natalie DeMuro (14) is back after finishing sixth last year, while Marina Vranos (12) wound up eighth.

 And this pair of trios appears to be more than ready for Saturday’s competition, as they tuned up for the championships this past weekend at the Westerns and did quite well for themselves. Both Clough and DeNunzio won their respective events, while Witherington finished second and Sharpe came in fourth. DeMuro, meanwhile, was third in the girls competition, as Vranos wound up fourth.”   

“I feel very blessed to have the talent, the experience and the depth that our diving teams feature, said Deerfield diving guru Mary Ellen Clark. “We have three boys who finished in the top 16 divers at the New England Championship last year, while we have three girls who placed in the top eight. They’ve all continued to work extremely hard this winter and I feel as though if they perform the way they’re capable of, we should do fine.”

For DeNunzio, who will be doing her diving next year at Yale, she’s hoping to bow out of the prep school scene with an appearance on the medals podium after just missing out last year with a fourth-place finish and a seventh spot as a sophomore.

“I feel good about what I’ve been able to accomplish here at Deerfield,” said DeNunzio, whose resume in the sport is much shorter than most of her teammates and opponents. “I began diving during my freshman year at Darien (Conn.) High School,” explained DeNunzio. ”Up until that point, I’d spent my winters concentrating on gymnastics.”

The twisting, turning and summersaults – and most of all, the landings – required in gymnastics began to take a toll on DeNunzio’s body over the years, however. “I tried to stick with it, but the pain just got to be too much. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I began looking for an alternative sport.”

And diving came up the winner, “because I wanted to compete in a sport that would allow me to use my gymnastics background,” said DeNunzio,  “somewhere I could take advantage of my ability to flip, twist and summersault.”

In just two years, she’s gone from “learning the entire list of mandatory jumps,” to establishing point records in two different pools. This past season, DeNunzio set a pair of marks at Suffield Academy, where collected 268.75 points for six dives and 422 points for 11 dives. She also established a six-dive record at Exeter with 282.95 points.

“I think what’s helped these kids become so successful is the fact that they learn from each other,” said Clark. “They train together, so, the boys learn from the girls and the girls learn from the boys and they get better that way.”

And you don’t get much better than Clough. As he prepares to drain the tub on his third season of prep school diving, the native of Weston, Mass., is undefeated in regular season meets. And his lone blemish on his record came during his freshman year at the Westerns, when he defaulted on his approach on the board and finished out of the running.

Clough, who hopes to take his diving skills to the Ivies once he’s done at Deerfield, has been diving since he was 9 years old. And although it all started out as casual, his diving career got competitive rather quickly.

“My family had a membership at a local country club,” explained Clough, “so I’d often go over and mess around at the pool. One day… I think I was probably 10 … a coach for the Boston Area Diving Club saw me and asked me if I’d like to try out for the team. I did, and that was the beginning of my diving career”

By the ripe old age of 12,Clough qualified for both the summer and winter Nationals. And did so until he entered Deerfield, when he dropped the winter games, but has continued to qualify for the summer competition every year. In fact, this past summer at the AAU Nationals, he placed second on the 3-meter board and fourth on the one-meter board in the 16-to-18-age bracket.

And in case you were wondering whether three straight New England diving championships is someplace where no one has ever gone before, wonder no longer: it’s not. A guy named Grant Gritzmacher, who dove for Hopkins School from 1993 to 1996 has been there and done that. In fact, he won titles all four years he was there.

 “I’ll probably see Grant on Saturday,” said Clough. “He’s the swimming coach at Westminster School. And although the best he can possibly hope to do is tie Gritzmacher for most diving titles in a career with four, there’s another Gritzmacher record out there that he still could shatter.

That would be 584.55 points – the most ever rung up by a swimmer at the New England meet.

“I doubt I could break it this year,” said Clough, “but it’s something I’d certainly like to take a shot at next year. The only opportunity you have at an 11-dive record is at the New England championships … you make only six dives during regular-season meets. And next year, we’re hosting the New Englands at Deerfield. That will be my final prep school meet and breaking that record would sure be a tremendous way to wrap things up.”