SCRANTON — From the moment she joined the team as a freshman, Abington Heights senior diver Sydney Dana was determined to leave her imprint on the program.
Dana fulfilled her goal by setting a new school record in the girls six-dive event during the Comets’ 116-65 win over Elk Lake in the team’s final dual meet of the regular season Feb. 16.
She won the event with a score of 239.50, eclipsing the previous mark of 236.45.
The dive that helped Dana break the record, a back one somersault with one and a half twists, was added to her repertoire this season.
“The whole meet was nerve-wracking, knowing it was my last chance to break the record,” Dana said. “It was something I was looking forward to since my freshman year. I was incredibly nervous going into the last dive, but it all worked out.
“I just tried to stay calm because I’ve been doing the dive all year. Diving is such a mental sport that if you let it get to you, it kind of all goes down the drain.”
Abington Heights diving coach Steven Schmaltz believes Dana’s fierce dedication, coupled with innate skills, led to her record-breaking effort.
“Coming in as a freshman, we noticed her natural ability and knew she had a ton of potential,” he said. “She already had great body awareness and balance, and she knew how to use the board to generate power. We just had to work on getting rid of some of her old gymnastics habits.
“Sydney is such a hard worker and always has a great attitude. She’s increased the difficulty of her dives from year to year and has evolved into one of the most skilled divers in the area.”
Dana credits Schmaltz’s guidance for helping her become a more accomplished diver.
“He’s an amazing coach and has been with us since my freshman year,” she said. “He was a diver in high college and college, so he has amazing technique. He teaches me so many things, even lessons outside of diving. He’s a great inspiration to me.”
According to Dana, Schmaltz has also been a calming influence during stressful meets.
“He has sayings and phrases that have stuck with me throughout the years,” she said.
Dana’s career at Abington Heighs hasn’t been without adversity, but a positive mindset has allowed her to persevere through struggles and injuries.
“I’ve hit the board probably three times this year, alone, and probably 10 times in my career,” she said. “It takes some mental strength to come back from something like that, but I’ve loved the sport ever since I started doing it. Even when something you love hurts you, you get back up and do it again no matter what.”
The Waverly resident suffered a setback this year at the Ray Willis Invitational Feb. 3-4 at Wyoming Valley West, but believes the incident only strengthened her will to succeed.
“I hit the board during my second dive and had to scratch,” Dana said. “It was unfortunate, but I think it was for the best. Since then, I’ve been working really hard to come back and do my best.”
Schmaltz has been impressed with Dana’s determination to overcome any obstacles in her path.
“She’s so mentally tough and fights through adversity like nobody I’ve ever met,” he said. “When she smacks or hits the board, I have to force her to take a breather and, in some cases, go see the doctor. If I turn my head for a minute, she’s back on the board waiting to take the next dive.”
Dana, 17, hopes to end her career on a positive note with the District 2 Championships scheduled for Feb. 25 at the Wilkes-Barre CYC.
“I’m just hoping to do my best, that’s all I can ask for,” she said. “There’s an 11-dive (district) record and I’m also hoping to beat that.”
The daughter of Ihab and Sandy Dana, she plans to major in pre-medicine or neuroscience at Penn State University.
Dana has been a four-year member of the football cheerleading squad and has been involved with the high school’s Transition Team.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.