Mulveney earns state title, new nickname

by C. Jemal Horton

Lake Norman Charter freshman Jill Mulveney waits to receive her award as the Class 1A/2A state diving champion.

High school swimming and diving teams are unique in that, typically, the swimmers and divers don’t interact all that much; the swim meets often are held at one location, while diving is done at another, usually on separate days. The swimmers and divers even practice at different pools.

So it wasn’t really a surprise that the swimmers at Lake Norman Charter School were unfamiliar with the team’s only diver, Jill Mulveney – until two weeks ago, when the Knights all were at Salisbury High School to win the 1A/2A Western Regional championship.

“When Jill competed in regionals, and the swimmers were there to see her earn points toward their (team) total, they were really excited,” recalled Mulveney’s mother, Sue. “They started calling her The Diver.  They don’t know her name, but when they see her in the hall, they yell, ‘The Diver!’”

Now, they can call Mulveney something else: The State Champion.

On Feb. 9 at Raleigh’s Pullen Aquatic Center, Mulveney turned in a sparkling performance to win the Class 1A/2A girls state 1-meter diving title. Mulveney, just a ninth-grader, won the championship by scoring 367.7 points, which were 62.15 better than her closest competitor.

Although she already had an individual regional championship to her credit, Mulveney said she was nervous entering the state meet as a freshman.

“It was pretty amazing,” she said. “I was up against people who had been to the states a couple times before. I wasn’t really expecting to win; I was just going to try to do my best and do better than my regional score (345).

“When I won, I was just surprised and happy and proud of myself.”

As a team, the Lake Norman Charter girls fell just short of a championship, finishing second to Raleigh Charter by just 11 points (227 to 216). The Knights’ boys squad also took second place, scoring 181 points to Carrboro’s total of 358.5.

Lake Norman Charter, however, did have another individual event champion, as the 200-yard medley relay team of Emily Hunt, Lauren Davis, Meaghan Noble and Rina Leonidas took the gold medal in 1 minute, 57.72 seconds.

Mulveney opened the diving competition in impressive fashion. On her first dive, she executed a forward 1½ pike that yielded 33.15 points. She followed that with an inward dive pike for a score of 29.25. Her highest point total, however, came on her 11th – and final – dive of the day, when she executed a back somersault 1½ twist for 39.1 points. The score surprised Mulveney.

“I didn’t think I did that well on it because at regionals and practice, I hadn’t done very well,” she said. “But it felt good to have that kind of performance and be a state champion.”

And to think: Not only did Mulveney win the state crown as a ninth-grader – she also did it as a relative newcomer to the sport.

Mulveney and her family moved to Huntersville in the summer of 2007 from their native Toronto, Canada, after her father, Hal, received a new job assignment. At the time, Mulveney was still competing in gymnastics, a sport she’d taken up in her early childhood. But something she witnessed in 2006 remained in the back of her mind and, 2½ years ago, she changed sports.

“We watched the Summer Olympics the year before we moved here, and she always thought she’d like to try diving,” said Hal. “We were fortunate to have the Huntersville Aquatic Center here, and they have a diving program that she started training in.”

Eventually, Mulveney joined ­Huntersville’s Carolina Diving Academy. Over the years, she became known for her calm demeanor during competition. She refuses to look at scores during diving meets – her own or those of her opponents. She simply exchanges light pleasantries with her competitors or simulates the twists and turns she might need to execute on her next dive.

“I don’t like to find out the scores until after the meet is over,” Mulveney said. “It’s just the way I like to do things. I like being surprised.”

During last week’s state meet, Mulveney was sticking to her routine of avoiding the scorer’s table – much to her mother’s chagrin. Before the competition started, it was announced that the event was short one scorekeeper, so Sue came down from the stands and volunteered. As Mulveney executed effective dive after effective dive, Sue was aware that her daughter was ahead of the field.

“I could see that she was leading,” Sue recalled, “but I could also tell that she didn’t have any idea that she was leading. I was trying to get her to look at me so I could give her a thumbs-up and sort of say, ‘Keep going, you’re doing great.’ But she doesn’t look at her parents during meets.

“I thought to myself, ‘If she can just keep her usual calm, she’ll do great.’”

After a while, the last dive was completed and the final point totals had been tallied. Mulveney gathered with the other divers near a podium as the winners were about to be announced. And for the first time all day, she looked at her mother.

Sue couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“You won, Jill!” Sue blurted.

Mulveney laughed as she recalled the moment.

“I was like, ‘No! I wanted to be surprised!’” Mulveney said. “I thought I had a chance. I felt like I was doing well, but I wasn’t sure because I saw some other girls doing really well also.

“Even though my mom told me early, it still felt good to win.”

Despite her new-found status as  a state champion, Mulveney doesn’t mind being below the popularity radar a bit. One hope she has, however, is that more Lake Norman Charter students eventually will join her on the diving team. After all, she currently is the diving team.

“I’m the only diver at the school, so it would be nice to have a few more of us,” she said.

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