The music pumped through Milton Hershey's Spartan Center on Thursday, occasionally interrupted by a word of coaching, but more often being overpowered by splashes and bursts of laughter.
The mood on the pool deck was much more relaxed for Kierstan Lentz and Evie Altland than it will be on Saturday, when the seniors compete at the District Three Class 3A diving championships at Wilson's Roy G. Snyder Natatorium.
Manheim Township's Nico Billoni and Hempfield's Ethan Richard, both juniors, will open the day with the boys championship at 10 a.m. Lentz and Altland will follow when the girls competition starts at 2 p.m.
“Honestly, I feel a lot better about this season than I did last season. I just feel a lot more confident in my dives and my abilities,” Lentz said. “The team has been great, it's a lot more supportive this year. I feel like being here at practice, it just motivates me to do better in my dives and it motivates me to get better every single day.”
While she may have been training with Hershey coach John Ricci on Thursday, two months earlier, Lentz was at that very same Milton Hershey pool, starting her senior season with Elizabethtown.
The Bears took home the win on a big night for Lentz. Earning a 50 on her back two-and-a-half twist, which will be her final dive at districts, she finished with a winning score of 252.85 — a mark 5.45 points ahead of the Lancaster-Lebanon League record set six years ago.
While continuing to find success in the pool, Lentz also took a big step in her future, signing her National Letter of Intent to dive at Youngstown State next year. Her final list may have been narrowed down to three schools, but it didn't take long for her visit to Ohio to cement her spot with the Division I Penguins, where it “automatically felt like it was my home.”
Altland, who attends Lancaster Country Day but competes for McCaskey, now finds herself in a similar situation. The senior's top three college choices are Susquehanna, West Chester and Penn State. If she chooses the Nittany Lions, however, she won't have the opportunity to continue diving.
It's a lot for the defending District Three bronze medalist to consider, especially as the postseason gets underway.
“I'm excited, I think it'll be fun,” Altland said of making her third district appearance. “I think I've progressed a lot. I've worked on my mechanics a lot, just becoming crisper and cleaner with my dives. (I'm) just focusing on having fun because it's my last one, not stressing too much.”
After using the same list of dives the last two years, Altland has increased the difficulty this year and introduced two new dives with the hope of earning another medal and returning to the PIAA stage next month.
For Lentz, there's added motivation after dropping from fifth to sixth last year and narrowly missing an automatic berth at states. With her eyes on a fourth straight district medal, she's increased the degree of difficulty on her dives, adding pikes to some and upgrading to a reverse double.
“This season's definitely a lot different,” Lentz admitted. “My main focus for the season was not just to dive well by meet, my end goal was to get (on the) podium at districts. I was obviously not happy with the outcome last year, so I'm really excited to see how districts goes. This is kind of what I've been working toward for a long time.”