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For East Lyme's Caroline Gonsalves, fall means diving

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published November 02. 2012 4:00AM
Tim Cook/The Day
East Lyme High School junior Caroline Gonsalves, here in a meet Sept. 27 against Ledyard, will attempt to defend her Eastern Connecticut Conference diving championship Monday at East Lyme. Gonsalves set the meet record last year with 478.85 points.

East Lyme - There have been times when the message from one coach or the other to Caroline Gonsalves has been this: "I need you here more."

She officially participates in gymnastics, diving, indoor track and lacrosse, with Gonsalves, a junior at East Lyme High School, taking cues from her dad, Dan, who referees anything and everything - "jai alai, for all I know," said Anne Gonsalves, Caroline's mom.

"There were times my diving coach would say, 'When are you going to stop gymnastics and train with me six days a week?'" Caroline Gonsalves was saying Thursday at her East Lyme home, which had just regained power following Hurricane Sandy.

"I would say, 'I like to do both.' Over the years I've been lucky to have coaches that understand. They mostly say, 'We understand. Just work hard when you're here.' But it's been a process."

Gonsalves is currently in the midst of swimming and diving season. The Eastern Connecticut Conference diving championship, originally scheduled for today at East Lyme High School, has been moved to 4:30 p.m. Monday, while the league's swimming championship will still be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point.

Gonsalves is the defending diving champion, last year setting the ECC, school and pool records for 11 1-meter dives with 478.85 points. She placed third in Class M (376.45) and sixth at the State Open (395.30), earning all-state status for the second straight year as well as All-America consideration.

She also holds the school record for six dives at 258.40 points, raising that mark on two different occasions this season, the most recent in an East Lyme loss at Staples of Westport on Oct. 23.

"You have good days and you have bad days. I can pretty much tell from the warmup," said Gonsalves, who is also a pole vaulter and sprinter in indoor track and an attack for the ECC champion girls' lacrosse team.

"... I like to stay busy. I can't sit still for a second; ask my mom. I don't think I'd be able to choose one sport and do it all the time. When I did the more competitive levels of gymnastics, you had to be in the gym training all the time. The level I'm in now (prep-opt advanced ) lets me do my diving and stuff.

"If I do any sport in college it will definitely be diving."

***

Buoyed by her dad, who is a diving judge, Gonsalves and her sister Amy attended diving lessons at the East Lyme Aquatic and Fitness Center beginning when Gonsalves was about 7 years old.

The instructor was East Lyme High assistant coach Holly Buckley, still Gonsalves' coach today.

"She was very gutsy and always willing to try things, but also very much still a little kid," Buckley said. "Still, always willing to listen, always coachable."

After beginning with Buckley, though, Gonsalves switched to a program at Connecticut College which necessitated she not only dive off the 1-meter board, but the 3-meter board (used collegiately), as well.

It was then that Gonsalves quit the sport.

"It got scary. I did not like the 3-meter," said Gonsalves, who was 11 or 12 at that time.

Then again, Gonsalves has never been one to give up easily. That meant she soon returned to diving, going to work with coach Patrick Pyrch (now the diving coach at Radford University in Virginia) and the Connecticut Elite Divers' program, driving twice a week to practice at Cheshire High School.

Gonsalves now calls her front 2 1/2 and her inward 1 1/2 her two best scoring dives. She gets "butterflies" before she competes and has trouble sleeping the night before, but the more adrenaline pumping the better, she said.

Despite her record-setting scores, she is still very much willing to learn. Gonsalves participated in a trip through Nutmeg Aquatics to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where she conquered her fear of the 3-meter board, and she attended a camp this summer at Indiana University.

This is where the coachable part comes in.

"She always recognized there's always things she can work on. She has motivation to keep working hard. And she's phenomenal now," said Buckley, who has been with the East Lyme swimming program since before girls' swimming had its own season.

"When you give her constructive criticism, she really takes it to heart and improves on it. She works on that on that information; she works with all the little pieces and it seems to come together. ... It would be easy to do things the way she's always done them."

***

East Lyme, which is aiming for its 13th straight ECC championship on Saturday - although the scores will not be final until Monday's diving event - practices every day at 2:30 p.m.

The swimmers and the divers, nine divers from East Lyme, as well as competitors from Norwich Free Academy and Ledyard, all practice together.

"It's one team," said Gonsalves, one of five members of the Vikings to qualify for the Class M diving championship on Nov. 8 at Plainville High School. "All the swimmers are close to the divers and vice versa."

East Lyme's Annemarie Durham was fourth in ECC diving last year, Hanna Suarez fifth and Caeleigh Jennings sixth, with all three of those divers returning this year, as well, in addition to freshman Jasmine Bazinet, whom Gonsalves calls "beautiful to watch."

Gonsalves serves as a strong role model for her teammates, Buckley said, due to the combination of her level of excellence and her humility.

"The girls could look at some of the things she's doing and have it be very motivating because she's nice and pleasant about everything she does. There's never animosity," said Buckley, the assistant under head coach Jack Stabach.

Buckley said she believes Gonsalves has come to see diving as a positive aspect to her life that could open doors to her as far as competing collegiately. She said Gonsalves' scores are "formidable" and will be tough for anybody to break in the future.

But Buckley also understands Gonsalves' will to be more well-rounded than to concentrate on just one sport.

"Sports has helped me make a ton of different friends," said Gonsalves, who claims teammates all the way from Shoreline Gymnastics in Old Saybrook to the basketball hoop in her front yard. "I don't think I'd like playing the same sport every time."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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