Sept. 21, 2012
By Matt Weber
HUNTINGTON - Jim Zagaria was a gymnast with no insight about diving into high school but a meeting about joining the wrestling team pushed him towards the profession he deeply enjoys today.
Zagaria, Marshall’s fourth year diving coach had never dove in a pool before. And he had no plans to do nor had it crossed his mind while in high school. He was planning to look into wrestling. Zagaria and his buddy decided to miss their bus after school and attend a meeting for potential wrestlers.
The meeting became a bust with two current wrestlers telling the small group of people that showed up to come back next week. With two hours to kill before gymnastics practice, Zagaria and his buddy decided to go visit their buddy Nate, who was in the school’s pool participating in his team’s swim practice. That moment would be a life changing decision for Zagaria.
As he and Nate sat in the pool, watching practice, Nate would yell down to the women’s diving coach Mr. Light saying Jim wanted to try and dive. Mr. Light would invite Jim down to give it a try. With a loaned swim suit (a speedo that is), Zagaria proceeded to learn all 11 championship dives, the first person in his school to do so on one day.
“Nobody had ever done that,” said Zagaria. “I became the first person in 30 years of my high school to learn all 11 dives in one day.”
From that moment on, Zagaria’s life would change. No longer was he interested in wrestling, he had now adopted diving to go along with gymnastics. He now looks back at the moment to jump into the pool and sees how things have progressed.
“It’s funny because I can trace my life from now back to that decision to jump in the pool.”
Giving up gymnastics wasn’t easy though. Zagaria was a regionally competitive gymnast and to just give it up for diving, something that was merely happenstance, was tough.
He would continue to do both through high school. He would eventually drop gymnastics in favor of diving because it was easier on the body.
The transition to become a coach came in high school with another unexpected turn in the road of life.
Zagaria felt like he was a coach all his life. He would, no matter the sport, show up two hours early. It was in his system from an early age. But when his grandfather passed away it would change his life.
“When my grandfather died I decided I wanted to be coach because I wanted to do something with my life.”
So while at Iowa State he changed his degree program to sport management and physiology and began a transition into coaching.
Zagaria got his feet wet in coaching in 2001 as he coached at Ames High School. From 2003-05 he was the coach of the Woodbury HS girls team.
Zagaria would begin his college coaching career at the College of St. Catherine and University of St. Thomas in 2003.
He came to Huntington in October of 2009. It would be his first chance to be a Division I coach. What attracted him to the job was what he saw from the girls when he met with them on his visit.
“When I met the girls they seemed very motivated, wanted to get better and wanted to work hard,” said Zagaria.
The fourth year man at the head of the Herd’s diving program using a four-tier coaching style for his student-athletes.
“There are four things I use. One I use what have you done right, two I correct what needs to be fixed, three I teach them how to fix it, and four I end with something positive.”
Zagaria will have five divers to work with this season, a little different than the two he had last year.
The team’s top returning diver is Lauren Rone, a senior who qualified for the NCAA Zone Diving Championships for the second time last year.
Added in the mix are Casey Kyriacopoulos, the second diver that competed last year and Maribeth Smitha, senior who is back on the board after a nearly two year hiatus due to injury.
Newcomers Sophia Cooper and Meghan Johnson will also join Zagaria’s group of divers.
“I think the outlook for this year is really good and the experiences we will get this season will be good.”