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March 14, 2012

Making a Splash

By: Marc Mullen

Tech’s Logan Shinholser hardly creates a ripple when he dives, but he’s making a big splash with his accomplishments in Tech’s swimming and diving program

The 2012 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships, held at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, which serves as the home of the Virginia Tech Hokies, featured the platform diving event for only the fifth time.

It’s been a very fickle event for its competitors, as three times prior, the same diver –Terry Horner of Florida State (2008); Reuben Ross of Maryland (2009); and Nick McCrory of Duke (2011) – has won the 1-meter and 3-meter titles only to be denied the third on the championship’s final day of competition.

Stopping McCrory a year ago was Hokie Logan Shinholser, who became the school’s first ever ACC diving champion after claiming the 2011 title in the platform event.

“I think winning ACCs that first time was my biggest moment because I didn’t expect it at all,” Shinholser recently said of that victory. “The top contender [McCrory], he’s going to the Olympics in London [this summer]. He’s incredible.

“He won NCAAs two years in a row, and last year, he went to ACCs a little hurt. He still could have won. He’s just that great, but he did dives that he usually would never do, and he just messed up a little bit. So I just stepped up to the plate and won it. I just remember that feeling. It was just a sense of euphoria. It was incredible.

“When I was a freshman and got second at ACCs to him, I took that as winning because he is just that good. And it showed me that, if I really want it, I can have it.”

Enter this year’s ACC Championships, and as fate would have it, Shinholser found himself in the same situation as the other three men in prior championships. He easily took the 3-meter and then the 1-meter events for the second and third ACC diving titles of his career.

The Burtonsville, Md., native entered the platform event as the odds-on favorite after setting a school record in the preliminaries, and he was poised to break the trend and bring home all three titles in the same meet. Then, like before, it just wasn’t meant to be.

“Oh yeah, after I won 1-meter, I was so nervous for platform,” he said. “We had a meet earlier in the year, our big invite meet, and I won both 1-meter and 3-meter. Then I got to the tower and thought, ‘Oh, I can just do this with one hand behind my back!’ and I got fifth, so I was just so upset.

“So I remember going into platform this time and just thinking, ‘Relax. Just do what you’ve been doing.’ And I won prelims and everyone was so happy for me, but I was afraid that I wasted all my dives, and as it turned out, I kind of did.

“Then I went into the finals with the same lackadaisical approach to the dives, which I had been doing all weekend, and it had worked. But I guess it finally caught up to me. Point-seven points – that’s what Ryan beat me by, which is a pretty insignificant amount in diving. It’s like a hundredths of a second in swimming.”

‘Ryan’ would be Tech teammate Ryan Hawkins, who qualified for the finals in eighth place, just eight points ahead of fellow Hokie Jared Butts, with 334.75 points. However, Hawkins saved his best for last, setting a personal best of 422.60 points in the finals, and he waited for Shinholser’s final dive of the day to see if he would claim his first ACC diving crown, just like Shinholser the previous year.

Shinholser came up just short, finishing with 421.90 points, and he was only slightly disappointed.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to win, but at the same time, if you are going to lose to someone, a teammate is the best person to lose to,” he said. “In the team aspect, if I would have won, we still would have gone 1-2. So as an individual event, yeah, it’s a little frustrating, but the ACCs are a team event, not individual, so I’m okay with it.”

With his 57 points earned, Shinholser was named the ACC Most Valuable Diver and kick-started the Hokies’ best finish in the ACC Championships. Tech placed second to Virginia with 594.5 points.

Shinholser also highlighted the Hokie diving efforts at the Championships. Tech’s divers took home a total of eight medals. Kaylea Arnett won the 1-meter women’s event and took third in platform while being named the Women’s Most Valuable Diver, and Logan Kline placed second in both the 3-meter and platform. The results cemented Tech as top-notch diving program.

“I just think that Ron [Piemonte, the diving coach] should have a great team here until he leaves,” Shinholser said. “We have this great pool, our swim coach, Ned [Skinner], is very facilitating to diving, and with Ron, everyone just immediately loves him.

“He’s a great coach, and he’s just an all-around understanding guy and knows that there’s more to life than just diving. He’s really understanding in that aspect. I think this program can only rise at this point, and I don’t foresee an end to great divers under him.”

This success, though, wasn’t always the norm for the program or Shinholser.

He had to work long and hard to get to where he is today. He stands as a two-time NCAA qualifier in each of the three diving disciplines (Zones were held March 9-11 for the 2012 NCAAs), a 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier in four events (1-meter, 3-meter, platform and platform synchronized), and only Tech’s second All-American diver.

Interestingly, a dive he failed to land served as the turning point in his diving career. It came during his freshman year, and ever the competitor, he realized he needed to become more focused on his craft.

“My freshman year, I failed a dive, and I was just heartbroken,” he said. “Failing a dive is when you do an incorrect dive. I was supposed to do a gainer, which is a backflip going forward, two and a half of those on the 3-meter, and I just didn’t land on the board right and fell off – and I get zero points for that.

“And if I would have done an okay one, I would have made it to the finals, but because of that, I didn’t score any points. That lights a fire under you and gets you motivated to say, ‘I need to change what I’m doing right now,’ and that worst moment turned into a very beneficial thing to me.”

In addition to Piemonte, Shinholser credited several others for helping mold him into an ACC champion diver. One person is a former Tech diver who set the standard for diving in Blacksburg – at least until Shinholser came along. He and other Tech divers call their former teammate the “Godfather.”

“Freshman year, we had a really good kid. He was a captain. His name was Mikey [McDonald],” Shinholser said. “And he was kind of like the godfather of the program because, before Mikey, there really was nobody here. Because of Mikey, Ron actually came here, so we joke that Mikey actually recruited Ron.

“So that kind of jump-started the program. My freshman year, I saw Mikey as the captain, and he put all the weight of the dive program on his shoulders, and I just wanted to do okay – and that’s all I did was okay. But as soon as he was gone, I decided okay wasn’t good enough for me any more. I really wanted to progress even more in the sport.”

That serves a contrast to what he thought of the sport growing up. His dad, Steven, dove in college at the University of Maryland, but Logan and his siblings considered the sport “stupid,” so they never pursued diving, and Steven Shinholser never pushed them toward the sport.

Instead, Logan grew up participating in gymnastics. He enjoyed the sport, but his grades suffered because of all the time needed for practicing. That didn’t sit too well with his mother, Keller Shinholser.

“I did gymnastics just, as like any other little kid does, to get rid of their energy, but I stuck with it until my freshman year of high school,” Logan said. “I was progressing, but my grades weren’t as good and I was always hurt, so my mom said, ‘That’s it. You’re done,’ and she took me out of that.

“My brother had quit gymnastics probably about two months before me, and he’d been diving like once or twice a week, so I figured I would try that. A year later, one of my dad’s best friends [John Walsh], who also dove at Maryland, was the head of the Montgomery Dive Club, and he asked me to move up to the national training group. And if he asked you, you don’t say, ‘No.’ So I said that I’d try one practice, and then the rest is history.”

Diving became part of his blood at that point, and it certainly is a huge part of the Shinholser family. Logan’s older sister, Amanda, dove at UMBC, while younger brothers Colby and TJ are still in high school and plan on diving in college as well. Unfortunately, Colby, who is a senior, is expected to attend UVa, while TJ, a junior, is still undecided.

Logan himself is a junior at Tech, with one more year to rewrite the record books. He already owns three ACC titles and wants to add a coveted national championship to his decorated career – which would make him the first individual outside of track and field to win a national crown at Tech. He also wouldn’t mind sweeping the diving events at next year’s ACC meet.

Of course, if he accomplishes all that, he may find himself with a nickname. Maybe the “Godfather” would be a better option for him as well.