The path to state-championship glory does not typically start with friends goofing around a neighborhood swimming pool.
That's where Dylan Goetz began his explanation, describing his rise from swimmer to a diver capable of twisting and tumbling his body into the water with enough grace to impress judges.
Goetz, a senior in his first year diving at Westside, is undefeated and coming off a victory in the CSRA Championships, where he was the only diver to score more than 350 points.
He found encouragement and confidence diving with friends at a swimming pool in the Montclair neighborhood while casually attempting 1 1/2 flips and gainers -- backward flips from a forward starting position.
"I just sort of dabbled at neighborhood pools, doing stuff on a board with like no spring," Goetz said.
Goetz is one of five area divers to quality for the state competition. No diver from the area qualified for the state meet last year. Goetz, teammate Michael Williamson, Evans' Daron Griffin and Cross Creek's Ryan Self will compete today in the Class AAAA meet at Marist High in Atlanta. (Greenbrier's Graham Lowery competed Wednesday in Class AAAAA.)
The state's swimming championships are also this weekend, long after divers have completed their 11 dives on the springy, 1-meter board with varying degrees of difficulty. The names even sound difficult: the forward 1 1/2 somersault pike and the inward somersault tuck.
Goetz (5-10, 175) begged coach Jody Grant to let him dive each year he joined the school's swim team, but Grant didn't want to pull Goetz away from swimming, where he excelled. Grant also worried the difficulty of the dives would frustrate Goetz.
But Grant also liked the idea of developing divers that could score points for the team in an event many schools neglect. In addition to diving this season, Goetz still swam three races (one individual event and two relays) and surprised his coach with an ability to grasp the tough concepts.
"I was worried he wouldn't be able to do the different dives," Grant said. "Every summer he has been practicing more and more, but I think this year he finally proved himself. I did not expect him to make it to states. The degree of difficulty is tough to learn. ... Once I saw him do the dives, he just kept getting better and better."
Goetz trained with Williamson, a 5-8 junior who has a background in gymnastics. Together, they learned the time and repetitions necessary to develop the skill.
"It's just about learning the muscle memory -- days after days of repetition," said Brooks Kennedy, a 2005 Greenbrier graduate and former diver who now coaches diving at Greenbrier. "If you have the desire to get better, it can be a really fun sport."
Kennedy is in his first year coaching a group of five divers at Greenbrier. He started the sport while hanging out in Columbia County's Woodbridge subdivision during the summer and now imagines starting a local diving club to improve the area's quality.
All but six of the other 22 divers entered in the competition are from private schools. Many of those schools have their own pools. Goetz, who splits practicing with a job bagging groceries at Kroger on Washington Road, is capable of finishing in the Top 16, Grant said.
"I'm not going to think about where I finish or messing up," Goetz said. "When it comes down to the meets, you just can't think about it."