When Ward Melville’s Yael Mitelman was told it might be too late to succeed for as a high school diver, the then-junior did what she’s been doing for years. She took the challenge head-on and threw in a gravity defying flip for good measure.
The former gymnast turned swimmer turned diver committed to the sport this summer to begin her senior year and has executed increasingly difficult dives before going on to break the school’s record in less than eight weeks.
“It happened pretty fast for me,” Mitelman said. “My coach kept trying to tell me you’re doing really good and I had a good shot at counties and maybe even states. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but I slowly got better and worked.”
Mitelman hit her record mark of 266.4 last week and will compete in her first 11-dive meet Monday. It’s the first of two meets where she can qualify for the state championship in Ithaca in November.
Her coach, Jeff Perfetti, said he saw Mitelman’s potential as soon as she took her first plunge in tryouts. He told her she would probably be heading to the county championship.
“I said, ‘How about we together map out a game plan and we set our goal so huge that it keeps us up at night,’ ” Perfetti said. “And that’s basically what we’ve done.”
That goal is to make the state meet, becoming the second Ward Melville swimmer to do so. The first was Jen Yavid, another former gymnast who held the school’s record at 252.30 and was the first person Mitelman called when she broke it. The two have been friends since they were kids, and while Mitelman swam for three years, Yavid went straight to the diving board.
“I was incredibly happy for her and really proud that she accomplished something so amazing so quickly,” said Yavid, who graduated last year.
Mitelman made the move from gymnastics to swimming after suffering a wrist injury. She turned to diving after seeing the fun her friend had and the way other divers have transferred their gymnastics skills to successful diving experiences.
Now Mitelman has turned her sights to the state championship. To get there, she’ll be competing against some of the state’s top competition in a growing Suffolk talent pool.
The county has become a hotbed for New York diving. Last season, nine divers competed at the state championship, including Lindenhurst’s Grace Reeves, who broke the 14-year Suffolk six-dive record of 305.10 with a 309.90 last week. Mitelman said she wants to help Ward Melville get recognized at that level.
“My coach has said it was a goal of his to have a bigger representation at states,” Mitelman said. “He wants to be one of the stronger counties and it’s nice to try to help him reach his goal.”
Regardless of how Monday or the county championship turns out, Mitelman said she’s happy with the way her season developed.
“I feel like five weeks or six weeks until an 11-dive meet is crazy,” Mitelman said. “If I don’t make it, it’s not going to be the end of the world for me. I’m just kind of trying my best.”