Superior’s Sherwood dives headfirst into state meet
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Students walking to and from class Tuesday at Superior High School gathered curiously around the slightly ajar door of the natatorium. The loud reverberation of a diving board prompted them to peek through the narrow crack to see inside.
At the far end of the swimming facilities, Mike Sherwood set up for another dive. Standing on his toes with his back to the pool, the senior drew a deep breath to compose himself. Then he launched off the board in a series of twists and turns.
The around the door students stood in awe.
“That was crazy!” one said. “He did like 25 flips.”
Sherwood chuckled when told about his admirers.
“It’s not all that hard to just get up there and do the flips, it’s just the fear part you have to get over,” he said.
As divers go, Sherwood is a late entry to the sport. He began competitive diving when he joined the Spartan team as a sophomore, but he’s thrown himself into the sport headfirst and this weekend will dive in Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association boys swimming and diving state meet.
“Most of the people we’re competing against, in Minnesota especially, have been diving since fifth, sixth grade,” said SHS coach George Lehman.
Superior does not have a middle school or junior high program, but Sherwood hasn’t let that slow him down.
At the sectional meet in Hudson Sherwood finished with 356.55 points in the one-meter diving event to place fourth-place. Sherwood’s score was a 20-point improvement from his previous best and earned him a spot in the state competition. He is seeded 14th out of the 24 qualifiers who advanced to state.
“It was my senior year, so I didn’t want to end my career swimming just at sectionals,” Sherwood said. “I always wanted more, so I just tried as hard as I could to get to state.”
Sherwood has advanced quickly as a diver since his friend Andre Anderson convinced him to try out for the team two years ago. Anderson, a member of the Superior swimming team since he was a freshman, noticed Sherwood had a talent for diving when the two were still in middle school.
“We would always just go jump off of stuff and do flips, and he said I was pretty good at it so I should try diving,” Sherwood said. “He got me into it, so I kind of owe all of this to him.”
In addition to diving, Sherwood also swims for the Spartans. He was a member of the 400 freestyle relay that placed fourth in sectionals and competed in the butterfly as well.
During practice, Sherwood splits his time between swimming and diving, but leading up to the sectional meet he put in extra hours to improve his dives. Sherwood said he likes aspects of both swimming and diving, but he noted one major difference between the two.
“Diving hurts more. A lot more,” Sherwood said.
“When they hit the water wrong, which they do numerous times as they learn a dive, they’ll get bruised and occasionally bleeding,” Lehman said. “The main thing about divers is they have to have the courage to get back on the board and try it again, knowing that they’re going to have occasional pain. Just like a runner or swimmer has to fight through pain, a diver has to fight through a different kind of pain, a different psychology.”
When Sherwood first began diving, he took his lumps just like any novice. After botched dives we would go home sore, but he was never afraid to climb back on the board and try again.
“Coach kept calling me fearless because every dive I did he told me not to even try, but I kind of didn’t listen,” Sherwood said.
Divers need that kind of bravado to advance in their sport, but Sherwood is also aware of the danger of diving.
During the girls swimming and diving season, Sherwood witnessed his friend Stephanie Caldwell come out of a dive wrong and hit her head on the board. Caldwell needed staples in her scalp as a result the injury, but by the start of the winter sports season she had shrugged it off and was working hard with the gymnastics team.
The worst that’s happened to Sherwood has been a few nicks on his feet from the board, but he’s had close calls too. When he performed an inward double dive in Grand Rapids this season, Sherwood opened up over the board and came close enough to feel it brush his hair.
Since then, Sherwood said he always feels a little nervousness when doing an inward double, but he’s hoping to put all nerves aside when he stands on the diving board in Madison Saturday.
“We’re trying to polish my dives now,” Sherwood said. “We’ve basically got my list set up for the 11-dive (competition) at state, but I need to work on my entries and body position in the air, squaring off so you don’t move or twist or anything.
Lehman said state judging panels are normally stricter than sectional panels, so he spent the week preparing Sherwood lower scores than he may be used to. If Sherwood can develop comfort with his routine and be consistent in his dives, Lehman expects he will be able to top his sectional performance.
“Everyone’s always saying the first time they went to state, they choked on the first couple dives,” Sherwood continued. “But that’s what I’m here practicing for, so I won’t do that.”
The WIAA Boys Swimming and Diving Championships run Friday through Saturday at the University of Wisconsin natatorium in Madison. Division 1 diving is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.