CHESHIRE — A big part of being a captain is putting your team before yourself. Cheshire senior Ryan Nguyen has done just that for the Rams this winter.
In 2016, the Rams were Class LL runner-up and third in the State Open. They came into the current season as defending SCC Division I champs.
But they had a glaring hole in their lineup. The team’s lone returning diver, Cristophe Gessman, decided to focus on gymnastics. Not having a diver meant the Rams would forfeit 13 points in every dual meet, making it difficult for them in their quest to repeat as SCC D-I champs.
Just as the season was starting, Cheshire coach Kevin Reeder had an idea to have Nguyen give it a try on the board. The third-year coach checked in with the school’s diving coach Patty Conte.
“I texted Patty in December and I said, ‘Let’s give this a shot a couple of days a week and see what he’s capable of,’ ” Reeder said. “She texted me within an hour of his first practice and said, ‘This is going to work out.’ ” He just keeps getting better. He’s trying new dives and his scores keep going up.”
Although he’s had just six weeks on the board, Nguyen has qualified for the SCC championships as well as for states. He did it with a career-best 178.65 points against Amity on Jan. 26. That score was 30 points higher than his previous best.
Nguyen is enjoying his new role in addition to his normal full load in swimming events.
“It’s really fun,” Nguyen said. “I’ve seen all of the other divers over the years and my brother used to dive for Cheshire and he went on to dive in college. I watched him and I thought it would be so much fun.
“Being a swimmer, I would see the divers and I would be kind of jealous because, when I was younger, I would dive a little bit for fun. But ever since I stopped doing that, I haven’t gotten back on the board. I always wondered if I could actually do well. Now, after doing this for a month and a half, I’m astounded how far I have come with the help of my coaches and teammates.”
That older brother, Christopher Nguyen, a 2009 Cheshire grad, went on to be a Division I diver at West Point. Understandably, the younger brother seeks advice from his experienced older brother.
“I told my brother that I was diving and he was surprised,” Nguyen said. “He lent me some of his tips. I keep on going back to him, sending him some videos and he’s always there to help me.”
Conte said Nguyen is a natural. Not many athletes can just pick up the sport the day before the season and qualify for states. In addition to swim practices, Nguyen practices diving with Conte three days a week.
“He’s doing magnificently. He’s wonderful to coach and very gutsy and has talent. It’s a perfect blend for a diver,” Conte said. “The only chance of having someone picking up diving this quickly would have to have a strong gymnastics background, but he doesn’t have a gymnastics background, so that makes it more amazing to compete on the level where he is.”
Nguyen said the biggest adjustment to diving is being consistent day in and day out.
“You do the same dives over and over,” Nguyen said. “In swimming, you are expected to get the same times all season, but one simple misstep in diving and you could flop and lose two or three points. Before the meet against Xavier, I was nailing some dives and, on my last dive, it really didn’t go so well. In the last meet [against Amity], I didn’t do well in practice, but in the meet I hit the dives. That’s a little nerve-wracking some times, but it was a lot of fun.”
Another adjustment for Nguyen has been being all alone on the board and having all eyes on him.
“You have to be crazy to be a diver,” Conte said. “He will try anything you want him to try. He always wants to try new dives. He’s just ready to go.”
Nguyen said he may seem calm on the board, but he’s full of nerves.
“Without a doubt. My parents aways think I’m so calm and a veteran with this, but inside I’m freaking out,” Nguyen said.
Reeder said Nguyen has been invaluable to Cheshire’s 9-0 start this season.
“He’s a great story,” Reeder said. “He’s nearly a unanimously voted captain of this team. He’s a leader on this team. When I approached him about diving, he was totally open to it. We had never discussed it before this season. He said that if it would help the team that he would do it. I’m amazed every time I see him on the board and the progress he is making.”
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