With a couple of top 10 State finishes already on his resume, Trevor Nelson was on the short list of contenders to win the Illinois High School Association state diving championship this season.

Saturday, the Evanston senior may have moved to the head of the class.

Nelson knocked off defending state champion Kevin Sullivan of Downers Grove North and dominated a field that included two other returning state finalists at the Hinsdale Central Invitational.

Nelson ruled with a winning 11-dive point total of 482.95 to 478.50 for Sullivan, who is just coming off the injured list. The 45-diver competition was held at the Glenbrook North pool for the third straight year due to issues with the Hinsdale facility.

The ETHS standout also led the Wildkits to the team title in the event for the fourth straight year, teaming up with 5th place finisher Henry Goodman (429.35) and frosh-soph finalists Aryeh Lesch (3rd at 349.90) and Ethan Morady (11th at 261.20).

Nelson passed the mid-season test just hours before actual semester exams start in the classroom this coming week at ETHS. The victory marked the second in a row for the senior, who also took first place at the New Trier Invitational the previous weekend with a score in the 506-point range.

He didn’t challenge the 500-point plateau Saturday, but didn’t need to to capture the first-place medal.

“This field is really my competition for State, so it was even more important for me to do well here today,” Nelson explained. “I knew Kevin (Sullivan) was here along with a really good freshman from Riverside-Brookfield (third place finisher Harrison Nolan), a guy I’ve seen destroy other divers. He can really be intimidating.

“Winning today was definitely a big confidence thing for me. Every time I perform well, it reminds me that I really can do this. I put in a lot of work over winter break and I think this year I’m a lot more focused, a lot more driven. I really do want that state championship, and now I hope other people think of me as the one to beat. I’ve gotten stronger and I’m more of a force to be reckoned with than I was in the past.”

Nelson’s progress as a diver — after placing 9th as a sophomore and 4th as a junior at State — didn’t just come with a tougher degree of difficulty on his diving list this season. He also knew it was time to step up and be a leader in the program following the graduation of former teammate Harel Anolick, the only four-time state qualifier in school history.

“Not having Harel around anymore has had a big impact on me,” he said. “The past 3 years I’ve really lived (and competed) in his shadow. Now I’m a lot more confident and I’m coming into my own as a diver. As I grow and get better, and have results like this where I can come out on top instead of always being behind Harel, it gives me the reassurance I need to keep going and put everything I have into this.”

Consistency was the key for Nelson in Saturday’s triumph, against a field that featured Sullivan, 7th place state finisher Joey Scimeca of St. Charles East and 9th place state finisher Ryan Cohn of Glenbrook North.

“I felt like I was pretty consistent today,” Nelson added. “It was a long day with so many divers here, and I think fatigue was a factor at the end. The last round I had all of my big dives and it really wasn’t a shock that things didn’t come together for me over those last 3 dives. But I know my big dives will continue to get better. Having that reverse 2 and a half at the end makes my list significantly harder (3.1 degree of difficulty), but it’s a necessity for me to do it for State.”

“Trevor really wanted to win this meet, and he did the things he needed to do to win it,” said ETHS diving coach Aaron Melnick. “He didn’t give the judges any opportunity to bring his scores down, and he was a hair better than the others in the dives that made a difference. I’ll take that consistency any time, any place, because that’s what gives you the opportunity to win State.

“With Harel gone, Trevor has really stepped up and become a leader.”

Nelson’s move into the No. 1 position among the Kit divers meant that Goodman, another senior, also moved up in the team pecking order. He’s not a year-around diver like Nelson — he also plays golf and water polo at ETHS — and subsequently is usually in a catch-up mode once the winter season starts.

“For most club divers the toughest thing about the beginning of the high school season is switching from 3 meters to 1 meter. But I go about 9 months without even touching the board, so it can be pretty scary when they say now do a reverse 2 and a half like I did today,” Goodman said. “You have to start all over and it’s so scary your legs are shaking.

“My first 5 dives were really solid today and the second round was OK. I didn’t mess up too bad. This year I’m trying to compete at a higher level because this is my first year with a chance to actually make it to State. This meet is a good check for me because it has almost every top competitor here.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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