FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High swimming has a defending state champion determined to defend her title and grab the second one she missed last year while the diving team has a returning top …
FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High swimming has a defending state champion determined to defend her title and grab the second one she missed last year while the diving team has a returning top point scorer who missed her region meet due to injury last year as area swimmers gear up for the FHSAA state swimming and diving championships this week in Stuart at the Sailfish Splash Waterpark and Aquatics Center on Fri., Nov. 4.
Ava Brinkman, who scorched her way to a 505 point district title last year before suffering a broken nose prior to regions, is set to challenge the best in the state with a reinvigorated vigor to finish what she could not do last year.
In one of the more dramatic events to be highlighted in Stuart, the girls diving, Fleming Island High sophomore Ava Brinkman has been on a mission to finish what she could not finish last year because of a season-ending injury.
“People may not comprehend the extent of the trauma of just the initial diagnosis to the final diagnosis,” said Andrea Brinkman, mom to sophomore Ava, who will travel to Stuart after a year of emotional, physical and psychological trauma that has tested the young athlete to be prepared for the Class 3A championship. “Her accident was on a three meter platform inward dive where she smashed her face on the board somersaulting toward the diving board. We went from a diagnosis of a broken neck, a concussion, a cervical fracture and multiple face fractures to, after hours of excruciating second and third opinions, to her final just a broken nose and stay out of the water.”
Ava, just 15, stayed true to her sport and weathered the emotional trauma of the injury plus the loss of competing at the highest level for about three months.
“I think because of the injury and the recovery, I am a much stronger person overall,” said Ava Brinkman, who recently took fourth at the USA Nationals in Texas to solidify her return to the highest level. “I use the story of Greg Louganis, an 1988 Olympic gold medalist for the United States, as my inspiration to stay the course. He did kind of the same thing and smashed his face (just a laceration) during prelims, but returned to win a gold medal.”
For Brinkman, the return took a bit more than a bandage across her nose as, according to mom Andrea, Ava broke the nose perfectly and did not need any post injury casting or wrapping.
“She just had to stay out of the water for six weeks to avoid impact with the water,” said Andrea Brinkman. “She was still doing her dryland exercises and other cardio and weightlifting workouts to keep her fitness high.”
Brinkman recalled that her first return to the diving board was a bit tentative if not scary.
“It took a while to be confident on my inwards for sure,” said Ava Brinkman, who also won AAU titles in one meter and three meters over the summer with a second place finish on platform over the summer. “I did have a mental block about it and stayed with 1.5 inwards until I was mentally confident, then I went for the more difficult multiple somersault dives.”
Brinkman’s ascension back into the state ranks has been closely monitored by her competition as well as her followers and parents.
“She won’t even look at the numbers of the other divers in the state,” said Andrea Brinkman. “She will be the best she can be and that will be a lot considering how her year has been.”
Top challenger for Brinkman, who dominated her region 1-3A competition with a 484.30 ahead of runnerup Lilah Kage of Gainesville’s 385.55 (5th last year at 383.65), is last year’s runnerup Kaitlyn Ross, a senior out of St. Thomas Aquinas, who scored a 436.35 for her silver medal last year with Brinkman’s 505.25 as a district champion the only comparison number.
“From district to state, the judging gets more difficult and the dives riskier,” said Brinkman. “I feel confident and strong that I have prepared to my very best.”
Top returner to the state championship is Fleming Island junior Maryn McDade, the defending 50 free Class 3A champion and a second place tie finisher in the 100 free.
Thus far, McDade has been flawless with a district and region title in the 50 and a fast third place in the region 1-3A 100 free. McDade’s 50, won in 23.82 ahead of Ponte Vedra challenger Penelope Zarczynski, a sophomore, who was runnerup by a slim 23.89 with Ponte Vedra freshman Kate Pelot third in 24.39, looks to be one of three probable challengers to McDade’s title.
For the rest of Class 3A, region 3-3A champion Maya Golubovic, a Seminole High junior, blasted her field in the 50 in 23.89 with runnerup Alex Pope in at 23.91 to set up a very fast final race field for Class 3A.
“That 50 free with those five girls in it will be a sub 23 second final,” said Fleming Island High coach Jordan Bright. “Maryn is very quiet and focused and she will have more to show at state. Every champion athlete definitely wants to defend the title and get the repeat.”
In region 4-3A and region 2-3A, the 50 free events were won in 24.63 and 24.49, respectively, with both swimmers; Anastasia Lutz, a sophomore out of St. Thomas Aquinas, winning handily by nearly a second, and Veronica Shulman of Horizon winning by 1.23 seconds.
In the 100 free, McDade’s third place 52.56, was the end of top four finishing times that started with Nease Charlotte Driesse’s winning 52.08 and ending with Ponte Vedra’s Sophie Fox’s 52.57 with just .51 separating the top four finishers.
“The way the schedule is set, Maryn will have about an hour to recover from the 50 and be ready for the 100,” said Bright. “Getting the double in the 50 and 100 is something every sprint swimmer wants.”
Lutz was top finisher at 53.91 in region 4-3A with Havana Layton of Naples, who McDade tied for second with last year at 51.47, punching in at 52.25 to earn the third fastest split in Class 3A with Golubovic fourth in 52.40.
In 2-3A, Madison Houck won in 53.03 with Lutz winning region 4-3A in 53.91.
In region 1-3A, for the women, Fleming Island finished eighth with Oakleaf 10th behind Ponte Vedra’s winning 421 with Nease second and Fletcher third.
For the boys, Nease won with 406 points with Chiles second and Pensacola Washington third. Fleming Island finished 12th, Orange Park 13th and Oakleaf 23rd.
Fleming Island to state (event, rank): Maryn McDade (50 free, 1st), Dylan Ducut (50 free 20th), Ava Brinkman (Diving, 3rd), Dylan Ducut (100 Butterfly, 13th), Maryn McDade (100 free, 5th), Elizabeth Loehr (500 free, 22nd), Girls 200 free relay (16th), David Goodwin (100 back, 16th), Girls 400 free relay (13th)
Oakleaf to state: 200 medley relay (10th), Peyton Loving (50 free, 17th), Olivia Votava (500 free, 19th), Peyton Loving (100 back, 14th), Girls 200 free relay (15th), Boys 200 free relay (12th)
Orange Park to state: Sebastian Lopez (100 free, 17th), Sebastian Lopez (100 breaststroke, 17th)
Clay to regions (Nov. 3 in Pensacola): Girls 200 Medley Relay (13th), Boys 200 Medley Relay (15th), Kylie Elrod (200 IM, 5th), Bryce Thompson (200IM, 24th), Adam Goss (50 free, 20th), Amanda Torres (100 Fly, 23rd), Mason Corby (500 free, 16th), Boys 200 free relay (14th), Kylie Elrod (100 Breaststroke, 9th), Girls 400 free relay (11th), Boys 400 free relay (13th).
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