BOGACZYK: Wolons Faces Degree of Difficulty, Dives to Success
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 6, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Don’t think for a minute that Megan Wolons dived enthusiastically into her collegiate sport.
She was a gymnast who after an injury turned to diving as a freshman at Jamestown High School in Virginia. It wasn’t so much landing in a pool of water rather than on the 3.9-inch width of a balance beam.
It was going off that springboard.
It’s obvious that this season for Marshall’s swimming and diving team, Wolons has conquered her fears of hitting that board … well, only kind of, she admits. But the 20-year-old junior is riding a wave of success after building confidence last season and then following an offseason plan this summer.
The red-haired Wolons has won back-to-back Conference USA Diver of the Week honors, the latter after her school-record performance on the 3-meter board last weekend as the Herd posted wins over Old Dominion and host Davidson.
She already has qualified for the NCAA Zone competition in early March at Annapolis, Md., on the 1- and 3-meter boards. Wolons’ school-record 304.85 topped a mark established 10 years ago by Casey Mullholland (298.35).
It’s the 18th among 22 Marshall swimming and diving standards that have been rewritten in the past two-plus seasons by Coach Bill Tramel’s program.
Andrew Helmich, the Herd’s second-year diving coach, gave Wolons and the other Marshall divers summer “homework.” Wolons, who lives in Lanexa, Va. (west of Williamsburg), regularly made the 35-mile trek on I-64 to work out at Richmond Area Diving.
“I was going home for the summer, and Andrew gave us each a list of dives thought he thought we could accomplish, dives we needed to learn,” Wolons said earlier this week. “I went to work with my coach (Sean Letsinger) in Richmond, did my best to learn all the new dives on the list, then came back and finished learning the rest.
“It’s really helped my scores because the harder the dives, the higher the degree of difficulty, so I changed my entire list from last year. So, the DD of my list went up a ton. I went from having a bunch of 2.1 and 2.2 DDs to 2.7s and 2.8s. And that’s a big jump, because when you multiply it (by the judges’ scores), it’s huge.”
Wolons already had some momentum after finishing last season as the first Marshall diver to reach the podium in 10 years of Herd membership in Conference USA. She placed second in the platform and achieved a third-place tie in the 1-meter.
“I think the turning point for me was at Bowling Green (Jan. 16-17),” Wolons said. “It was the first time I’d ever won (1-meter) and I didn’t think I’d win because it was ‘Wow, they’re so good.’ To me, I didn’t think I had a chance against them and I actually won and it was ‘Wow, I can beat some girls who I thought were pretty good. I can do it.’ And I started working harder, started concentrating on getting my dives in straight and rip ‘em. It was great feeling to know I could win.”
Helmich said he saw that day coming, if Wolons kept her head on straight.
“Last year, she definitely had some struggles,” the Marshall diving coach said. “She never had a long-term coach back when she was in high school and then with her first college coach (at Marshall) leaving early in her career, that leads to issues. You’re not able to practice consistently. She’s made huge strides since I’ve been here, and it’s really exciting to see.
“What really needed to change was her attitude. When I got here, I noticed right away she had a ton of potential and she’s finally realizing it now. But back then her attitude … she was very timid on the board, maybe even scared of the board.
“She thought maybe she would be close (to hitting the board). It’s just something that that comes with more confidence and consistency, and once she got that confidence, she was able to really become the diver that can win Diver of the Week like she has.”
Wolons is a self-described “Army brat” who was born in Colorado. She grew up in Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia, where retired Lt. Col. Dave Wolons and his wife, Karen, have lived since Megan was a seventh grader. Her younger brother, Scott, is a freshman midfielder on the Virginia Tech soccer team after being named the commonwealth’s 4A player of the Year last season.
Wolons said she really never became comfortable as a competitive diver until last season with the Herd.
“I was a solid diver,” said Wolons, who has a 3.26 GPA while majoring in elementary education. “I could flip and do stuff, but I dove out here (motioning with her hands) and the board is here.
“So, my scores always suffered, and last year I realized the board is supposed to push you out. It was like I always heard it and it finally clicked in my head. I never have hit the board, and its job is to put you out. I told myself I had to bite the bullet and try.
“I think I had all of the components to be a good diver, but none of them were all there and Andrew told me that after he got here. I’d get one of the worst scores on the team multiple meets a row. And Andrew said, ‘You could be like some of our top divers, but you’re just not confident in yourself.’
“He worked with me and got me more comfortable on the 3- and 1-meter doing my dives. And now I’m not as scared of the board -- but I still am some -- because that fear will never go away. But he really did a good job making me feel like I could do things I didn’t I could do before.”
Prior to this season, Wolons’ best 3-meter performance didn’t even make the top 20 scores in Herd diving history. With that greater degree of difficulty in her repertoire now, she has a chance to post plenty on that elite list.
That brings us to the reverse 2 1/2 that Helmich wanted Wolons to learn this summer.
“That one was a little hard for me to wrap my head around because I have that fear of hitting the board,” Wolons said, smiling. “I’m doing pretty well with it. I hit it sometimes and miss it other times. But I’m getting more comfortable with it every time.
“In the beginning, I would block (stop on the board) on like every other one, and now I’m like blocking on one of every three, so it’s moving forward, but slowly. All of this sport is mental. You have to have the skill, but you could be the best diver in the world and be scared to go off the board and not go anywhere with your career.”
Wolons said she thought she was through with competitive diving after high school.
“Marshall contacted me about diving, and it was, ‘You know, I guess I’ll go (visit) see what diving would be like in college,’” Wolons said. “I was dead-set on going to UMass-Amherst, not for athletics, being a student only. I came here, fell in love with the team, with the coaching staff, with the campus. And I loved Huntington and all it had to offer.”
Helmich said Wolons’ summer has paved her way for a big season.
“She worked really hard. She did exactly what I asked her to do, new dives and she came back ready to go – which helps a lot,” the Herd diving coach said. “That makes my part of the job – the in-season part – a whole lot easier, just because she’s already ahead of the curve where she should be following last season.”
Tramel’s team is 4-0 as it heads to Cleveland for a meet today and Saturday with St. Bonaventure and host Cleveland State. Besides Wolons, Herd junior Heather Lonkert, a transfer from Rider, also has qualified for the NCAA Zones in the 1-meter.
“My goals for the rest of the season … I have all of these brand new dives, but they aren’t as clean as my old dives because I just learned them,” Wolons said. “I want to get all of my dives clean, and consistent, so I can do any of them at any time. And then I have goals to learn two new dives on 3-meter and two on platform. I learned one the other day – a front 3 1/2, but it’s not ready for competition yet.”
Maybe the dive isn’t, but the record-setting, two-time conference Diver of the Week obviously is.