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Pooley 5th at states

Liberty senior Keller Pooley clinched a fifth-place medal at the PIAA Class 3A State Diving Championships on March 17 at Bucknell University where the Hurricane diver fought through an unrelenting stomach virus to earn a place on the champions’ podium.

“It was my dream to get a state medal,” Pooley said. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to compete, but my jumps were super high and close to the board, and I did not mess up any of my dives.”

Pooley’s day started at 5 a.m. when she sent a text message to Liberty diving coach Emily Kocis regarding her illness.

“I thought it was her nerves,” Kocis said.

So did Bethlehem Catholic diver Anna Petke who returned to the state meet early Friday morning to support her friend. (Petke dove in the Class 2A meet on Wednesday.)

Liberty swim coach Reik Foust didn’t know what to make of Pooley’s illness either, except that he was on the pool deck, helping to keep an eye on Pooley, securing her a Gatorade (red or blue, no orange), and keeping track of the other divers’ scores.

“The kid was a trooper,” Foust said. “It’s pretty amazing. Those muscles are already overworked, and she was white as a sheet, but she was pretty impressive.”

Pooley’s goal was to earn a spot in the top eight, as the top eight receive state medals, but was hoping for an actual spot on the podium as opposed to the floor.

“After two rounds, I knew she was top eight, but I was paying more attention to what she was doing and how she felt,” said Kocis. “On a sick stomach, Keller did some of the best dives she’d ever done and was getting the points she needed. Halfway through the final round, I knew she was fifth. It was amazing. I was thinking, is this really happening?”

Pooley’s dives were a front one-and-a-half, front double tuck, inward one-and-a-half tuck (her best), reverse dive pike, back one-and-a-half tuck, and back one-and-a-half twist, adding up to an overall score of 222.30.

“I thought I would have to drop out, but I never wanted to. It definitely went through my head, especially when I got to Bucknell and I was still sick and crying. I felt better after the first couple dives, but my stomach hurt again toward the end,” said Pooley, who was sick the whole way home with, as her doctor confirmed, a stomach virus.

North Allegheny’s Christina Shi from District 7, Pittsburgh area, was the state champion with a total score of 264.45.

Kocis and Foust noted that the divers who scored above Pooley were from the same district as Shi and had skyrocketing degrees of difficulty, which speaks to a different type of program than that of District XI.

Although there was already no doubt of the bond among Coach Kocis, Pooley, and Petke, their time at the state diving meet became a shining example of the four years they’ve spent together, and no one could be more proud than Coach Foust.

“(Former diving coach) Jeff Zettlemoyer was a great coach, and Emily has easily taken the reins and pushed it further,” Foust said. “She took everything he gave her, and I was so proud of her this weekend.”

Pooley is grateful for the years of instruction, competition, and support.

“Emily is so much more than a coach, and that was especially true at states. She goes way more above and beyond, packed up my whole room, and there’s a better connection than with a regular coach,” she said. “Anna is a great friend and very helpful. I love having a teammate I don’t compete against. She pushes me a lot, but it doesn’t matter who’s winning. Both are friendships I’m so thankful for.”