The girls dive team is trading their comfort zones for front doubles as they kick off the season with a new coach, 25-year-old Hannah Bortnick.
With her young age and more strict practices, she is introducing a challenging, yet rewarding new coaching ideology to the team, according to varsity divers senior Lauren Terry and juniors Ellie Phillips and Lena Madden.
Bortnick began diving as a freshman at Pembroke Hill School, going on to dive at the University of Arkansas and coach at Country Club of Leawood during the summers. East was in need of a girls dive coach after former girls dive coach Shelly King retired and has since gone on to coach both boys and girls dive at Blue Valley North.
Having just graduated college, Bortnick says her age is advantageous, as she is familiar with some of the latest dive techniques and drills her coaches taught her. Some of these include hurdle work without the use of arms, more individualized drills, lineups used to train eyes where to look in the dive and more slow modeling outside of the water.
She hasn’t run into any problems with the small age gap between her and the athletes, which she attributes to learning to assert herself over the years and establishing authority from the first practice. She does this by coming in with set goals and getting to know the athletes as people, which she believes will result in gaining the divers’ respect.
“I think sometimes a lot of people will look at me and be like, ‘Oh you’re so young [so] we’re not going to listen to what you have to say,’” Bortnick said. “So a lot of it for me is just making sure I have a plan and just sticking with my plan.”
But the switch in coaches doesn’t just bring a new, young face to the pool deck — Bortnick is using the techniques and drills she’s learned to bring a new coaching style to the team, which she describes as strict, yet approachable.
For the team so far, this has translated to a 30-minute earlier start time and practices with more dry land conditioning, drills for boardwork and basic fundamentals training built in.
“[King] would just have us do our dives and tell us what was wrong with them, but Hannah has us do front jumps, back jumps and lead up dives and make them good so that our harder dives could be better,” Terry said.
Bortnick has focused on a “back to basics” philosophy for her divers, designed to build a solid foundation to safely learn more difficult dives. This includes building specific muscles, using visual cues, learning balance and powering legs, according to Bortnick. Phillips says that this started on the first day of practice when the team learned new drills and reworked their approaches and hurdles, which are the elements leading up to the dive.
“Athletes can’t be expected to get on the board and throw good and hard dives without good basics,” Bortnick said. “When coaches forget to teach basic skills, that’s when diving becomes scary for the athlete.”
Phillips, Madden and Terry agree that compared to King, Bortnick is more precision and technique-focused. Terry thinks this will be helpful, as the country club dive training she receives in the summer doesn’t include many of the technical elements that Bortnick works to include, such as a straight posture and strong hurdle.
Phillips feels that although Bortnick’s practices are challenging, it’s been refreshing for the team to be pushed, as King’s coaching was more laid-back and involved more “messing around.” As for the new drills, stretches and conditioning, she feels Bortnick’s extensive dive knowledge will add a competitive edge to the team.
According to Terry, at the beginning of the season, Bortnick handed out a list of rules, including “no drama” and the “balk rule.” Balking is when a diver attempts to start and dive and then proceeds to stop, but the rule allows only one balk per practice per diver. If a second balk occurs, the whole team must do a conditioning exercise. This has been one of the techniques used to push divers out of their comfort zones.
“Most of the time, I can be out there saying, ‘this is what you need to do’ but a lot of diving is just deciding, ‘OK I’m going to do this’ and then just doing it,” Bortnick said. “And then from there I can help them improve on what we have.”
Madden believes that the rule pushes her as a diver, like when Bortnick had the whole team try back dives — something Madden usually avoids. While they appreciated King’s nurturing style, they felt they could evade trying new or more difficult dives more easily.
“[The rule] makes me go for things,” Madden said. “When I take a really long time and work my way up to it, I psych myself out and get scared. But with [the rule], I kind of have to go for it.”
Regardless of the extra practice minutes or next-day soreness from planks and other exercises, Bortnick and the girls are excited by the improvements she and the team are already seeing in their dives.
“I just want to make diving better as a whole,” Bortnick said. “So I feel like if I can work with high school kids and make them better, then that will make diving better.”