In those silent moments on a diving board, Alex Zhang is at his loudest.
The softspoken Harborfields junior won his third straight Suffolk diving championship with a score of 522.80 over 11 dives at Hauppauge High School Friday. Although he may be quiet off the board, his performance screams for attention.
"This means a lot to me," Zhang said. "I worked really hard for this, and I got first."
Meg McConnell, the coach of the Huntington/Harborfields/Whitman boys swimming and diving team, said Zhang is always tirelessly working to improve his craft. She would often look for space for him to dive, even just for short periods of time, when pool accessibility was hard to find because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"He just works hard, never complains, never has an issue about making a practice," McConnell said. "If there’s going to be a practice, he’s there."
This year’s championships were significantly smaller than in previous years, with fewer student-athletes participating amid the pandemic and the championships being pushed from Thursday to Friday because of snow. There were four divers Friday, compared with 11 last season. But the divers were thankful to have some sort of event to cap off their winter season.
"The whole environment was completely different," said Half Hollow Hills' Joshua Sundararaman, who finished second . "That atmosphere and competitiveness were not there for me at least. It was very casual. We all knew each other; we were just here for a great time and happy to finish the year at least with counties."
Riley Metz of Ward Melville finished third with a 370.30 and Colin Buscarino of Hauppauge was fourth at 326.05. Sundararaman had a 411.80.
Sundararaman, who is also a junior, says he has a friendly competition with Zhang."He helps me do better because I see him doing so good," Sundararaman said. "It pushes me to reach my full potential.
Traditionally, the Suffolk finals would be the last chance for divers to qualify for the state championships. But there won't be New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships this year because of the pandemic.
"I wanted to go to states, to see how I could do, maybe improve from last year," said Zhang, who finished 16th at the state finals last year. "But now I don’t have a chance, so that’s a little bit disappointing."
But even without a state culminating event, the competitors are happy for what they had.
"I’m just really grateful for all this," Zhang said. "Just even that I’m able to dive right now."