The freshman Lady Rattler is the 2014 District 30-5A and Region 8-5A girls’ 1 meter diving champion – a level of success few divers ever achieve.
Lady Rattler head diving coach Leslie Ortiz Richardson explains, it could very well be her gymnastics background that has helped Valdez excel in diving, and with so little experience.
“She’s a very natural diver,” said Richardson. “I think that her gymnastics background has a lot to do with that…. Any diver that has a background in gymnastics benefits greatly. She’s very particular about how she dives and how she practices. She strives to get the most out of her practices and it didn’t take long for me to see that she had a lot of potential if I pushed her enough.”
As for Valdez herself, she credits her five years in gymnastics for her success as well, but only in part. She also credits her teammate, and now two-time state-qualifying diver, Cecilia Hernandez for helping her along the way.
“Cecilia has been like a role model to me,” said Valdez. “I’ve always admired her dives and I’ve tried to learn things from her. That’s helped me a lot.”
In regards to her success, Valdez said, “I’m really excited because I never thought I could make it this far in my freshman year. I try to take every practice seriously but I also have fun.”
With so much less experience than most of the divers she will be going up against at the state meet in Austin next week, one of Valdez’s biggest challenges will be to get past the anxiety she feels prior to each of her dives.
“I still get really nervous when I’m waiting for my turn, so much so that I start shaking. But once I’m on the board I focus and I’m just concentrating on that dive,” said Valdez.
Hernandez, a senior, will be making her second trip to state this year. She finished second at regionals both this year and last. However, whether she would even be able to compete at the district and regional meets was in question as recently as a few weeks ago.
“I was practicing the week that we came back from Christmas break when I hit the board with my face and broke my nose during one of my dives,” explained Hernandez. “I was going to do a back dive but it felt funny on my take-off so I tucked over to do a back-flip tuck but I was right there at the board so I smashed my face. I was out three weeks as a result.”
Some might think that having experienced such a traumatic accident just a few weeks prior would have resulted in Hernandez being hesitant to get back on the diving board. However, as her competition at the district and regional meets discovered, this was not at all the case.
“I wasn’t scared to get back on the board after that,” said Hernandez. “I really wanted to get back on because I wanted to finish the season strong with this being my senior year. I was nervous about how the water pressure was going to affect my nose because I did have surgery on it.”
The University Interscholastic League’s State Swimming and Diving Meet will be held at the University of Texas in Austin Feb. 21 and 22.