| 6 min. read | by Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org |
An average varsity team in high school usually consists of upperclassmen and a few talented underclassmen, if you’re lucky. Underclassmen playing at a varsity level means they have a knack for their sport, a talent that has them ready to face peers three to four years older.
Dexter freshman diver Lily Witte is one such underclassmen that has a bright future in diving.
Witte, the youngest of three sisters, got started in the pool early taking swim lessons in the footsteps of her siblings when she was around five years old. With a pond on their property, those swim lessons came as a result of their mom, Trudy, wanting to make sure they could all swim.
After moving on from the Dexter Community Aquatic Club (DCAC), Witte joined the Michigan Diving Club, the swimming and diving club at the University of Michigan. Witte began diving at the DCAC and it wasn’t long before the coach, Kate Riedel, told the family they needed to get Witte in club diving.
Club diving is more focused, but Riedel knew Witte had potential.
“I met her and Trudy in my preschool swim class and it was pretty clear we had an athletic kid. I started coaching the dive team that spring or summer and she would’ve been going on five years old,” said Riedel. “Usually when you’re five, you fall off the board and look cute. That’s about what diving is at that age. But at that age if you phrased things in a way with vocabulary she could understand, she was able to make corrections and changes. Which is unusual at that age.”
Riedel said when she was six, she won her age group for the Washtenaw Interclub Swim Club, a developmental league. Witte won the eight and under girls group that had about 80 girls competing.”
“That was when we realized we had quite a diver,” said Riedel.
Witte told The Sun Times she began to realize she enjoyed diving more around eight years old, when she joined the Legacy Diving Club. Legacy Diving has programs ranging for those with no experience at all to those who are Junior Olympic divers competing in AAU and USA diving circuits throughout the year.
Legacy Diving Founder Buck Smith, also the head dive coach at Eastern Michigan University, saw Witte before she joined Legacy. Smith saw the potential but knew she needed more.
“Honesty she wasn’t quite where I felt she should have been at the time,” said Smith on when he first saw Witte. “She had all the talent but the not the right system and program. When we saw they decided to come to EMU to train with us, the first thing we did was broke her skills down and retrained her basics. We went backwards with her a little bit and fixed a lot of the small stuff and got her back on the right track. A couple years later, she’s winning national titles.”
Ed Goodman, Witte’s dive coach for the past three years, has had the assignment of teaching Witte bigger and more difficult dives. But going back to when he first began working with Witte, he could see she had a keen eye for attention to detail and understanding what her body movements on dives were supposed to be.
Goodman expounded on Witte’s ability to understand the intricacies of diving from early on as well as how she’s gotten better.
“It’s incredible,” said Goodman on Witte’s growth. “She went from being this small girl who could get in the water really pretty, to being really powerful. She jumps high, spins fast, she’s doing two and a half in every direction. On 3 meter she didn’t have any of those (dives) when I got her. Now, she’s doing a front three and a half on 3 meters. Her list is just growing at an incredible rate right now. She’s on the Junior National Squad, she’s an Olympic hopeful for sure. No doubt about it.”
Witte used to practice for three hours a day for four days a week with swimming mixed in, now, she practices for four and a half hours a day for five days a week and focuses on diving with weight training mixed in.
In 2013, Witte competed in her first junior nationals, placing 21st in the 1-meter.
In 2016, Witte took first at the AT&T National Diving Championships (junior competition) with a score of 242.10 and was placed on the junior national squad the following spring.
That junior national championship in 2016 would be the first of five she’s earned since; winning the 1-meter (271.05) and 3-meter (286.85) at the USA Diving National Championships (junior competition) in 2017, the 1-meter (315.05) at the USA Diving Junior National Championships in 2018, and the 1-meter (354.05) at the most recent USA Diving Junior National Championships.
“Even at a young age, putting in five to six days a week for training, 20 hours, is something most kids don’t, can’t, or aren’t willing to do,” said Smith. “Doing double practices all summer long, having not a lot of free time outside of diving, those are rare kids.”
As a middle schooler, Witte set the all-time pool record for six dives in 2018. Then, In her first varsity swim and dive meet this year, she broke the 36-year old varsity record that had stood since 1983.
Trudy credits Dexter schools for helping prepare Witte for the stiff competition. After she got put on the junior national squad at the age of 12, Witte was told they wanted her lifting.
“We tried to find a place that would let her lift,” said Trudy. “We tried the Wellness Center; they wouldn’t take her. Legacy didn’t have a lifting program. So, we were kind of like what we are going to do?”
Trudy told The Sun Times she reached out to anyone and everyone and credited Dexter Athletic Director Mike Bavineau and Chris Whittaker for helping out. Bavineau told Trudy about Whittaker, who was just beginning the strength and training program at the high school.
Although Witte was in seventh grade, Bavineau talked to the athletic trainers and Whittaker, both of whom said she’d be welcome.
“She started as a little seventh grade girl lifting with the varsity hockey team,” said Trudy. “She would go in the morning, I’d drop her off way before (school), and then I’d take her over to Mill Creek. That’s how she started (lifting).”
When asked what win stood out the most thus far, the two championships in 2017 came up, mostly because of the fact that she had broken a toe in a freak accident and couldn’t dive until a week before the event.
“That week of practice went alright,” said Witte, who conditioned and did recovery work with belts and a boot on the foot. “I was like, ‘well what happens, happens this year,’ I couldn’t help that I broke my toe. I was going to try my best to see what I could do.”
In addition to the two first places, she also placed third on platform.
Not bad coming off of one week of practice on a broken toe.
Competition in the area is strong, Witte sees many of her club teammates on local high school teams but she told The Sun Times she enjoys the high school swim and dive team and feels at ease.
Witte said she gets nervous before any meet but with the high school team, there’s more of her friends on it and she feels more comfortable talking and cheering on her teammates. When she gets up on the board, Witte said she just tries to envision diving like how she does in practice.
This past May she competed at her first senior national event, the USA Diving Senior National Championship Qualifier’s in Indianapolis, and she told The Sun Times she wants to dive at the next level.
With difficulty and consistency both taking a step up with the senior national team, Witte told The Sun Times she’s been slowly integrating more difficult dives into her repertoire.
“Her future is definitely in diving,” said Smith. “We put together a three-year plan two years ago and our goal is to make junior worlds at the end of this year.”
“Watching her grow, her physical stature, she’s gone from a little girl to an elite athlete in her build and her strength training,” added Goodman. “It’s been fun to watch her mature, evolve, and learn.”
With this three-year plan in place, Smith expected a struggle last year but was pleasantly surprised.
“We figured last year would be her difficult season with her body growing as much as she did,” said Smith. “Being adult weight and your neuropathways just don’t fire the same. I thought last year would be a struggle year. It was that way but by the end of the year, she had it all back to where it should be. I think she’s just got so much left in her as far as what she can accomplish.”
As a member of Team USA for the past three years, Witte is proud and humbled to represent the U.S. in international events. She has been able to compete in Canada, Germany, and most recently Chile as a member of the Junior Pan American Team. Witte hopes to continue to improve and represent America at these international meets.
Lily Witte will surely be a name to keep an eye out for in the diving world as the sky is the limit for this talented freshman.
Photos provided by Trudy Zedaker-Witte