From Beam to Board

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Becky Rognes

Junior Jenna Steffl performs a back somersault with one and a half twists at a diving meet. Steffl finished the regular season with a record of 8-0 and has already set high goals for her senior season. “I hope to get better, bigger dives in general, with more difficulty, and also perfecting my form more, in the air and on my entries,” she said.

The air is bitterly cold and thick with the abrasive scent of chlorine. The diving board is rough underfoot. In a moment, the world will turn upside down and begin to spin. Time will stand still, and it will seem like everything is moving in slow motion. The surface of the undisturbed water will draw near and, upon collision, surge outwards in an abundance of ripples. 

For many people, this series of events might be confusing or unfamiliar. But for junior Jenna Steffl, it’s just another day at diving practice. She made the switch from gymnastics to varsity diving in the fall of 2019. After spending five grueling seasons as a member of Team 1, a highly-competitive squad of gymnasts from the Owatonna Gymnastics Club, she was ready for a change.

“I practiced gymnastics in Owatonna, and I was going four to five times a week,” Steffl said. “It got to be a lot with school and a job on top of that. I also had a lot of injuries in my last year competing in gymnastics, so diving seemed like a good fit for something to try with not very many years left to be able to do it.” 

Steffl’s competitive gymnastics team had quite a rigid training schedule, but as a diver, she has had much more control over what skills she spends time on and competes with.

“It’s a lot more self-motivated, where in gymnastics, your coach is telling you, ‘Well, you’re doing this next,’” Steffl said. “In diving, I kind of have more freedom to choose how I want to progress with skills.”

Using the skills she had acquired during her time as a top-tier gymnast, Steffl quickly became one of the best divers in the Big 9 Conference. She was quite successful in her first season on the team, but it was Steffl’s successes during the 2020 season that truly made waves. She waltzed through the regular season, winning meets left and right, often by 30 points or more. Going into the Big 9 meet, Steffl had an unblemished record of 8-0. She used the Big 9 meet as an opportunity to advance her skill set, and she walked away with a personal record. 

“It went pretty well,” she said. “I tried a couple new dives, so it was a plus just not to fail those dives. I scored a 298, which is my highest score I’ve gotten ever.” 

Steffl placed fourth in the section meet, earning her place among the best divers in the state. She had hoped that she would be able to compete at the state meet this year, but due to COVID-19, the meet was cancelled.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “I only have two more years left – this year and next year – to dive, so it would’ve been nice to get some experience this year, hopefully before making state next year as a senior.” 

Though she was not able to compete at the state level this year, it was easy to see that Steffl’s hard work in the off-season was paying off. In the 2019 season, her personal record was a 160 for a six dive meet and a 260 for an eleven dive meet. This year, she increased those records by nearly 40 points, scoring a 199.7 for a six dive meet and a 307.8 for an eleven dive meet.

“I was most proud of getting some of the new dives that felt like such work last year,” she said. “They were a huge step that I would never be able to take, and I’ve been able to accomplish them this year.”

But like with any sport, diving has its challenges. When Steffl is frustrated with a dive or feels like she is not improving, she looks to her teammates for inspiration. She greatly admires her fellow diver, Ava Troster, for her persistence and resilience. Troster began diving at the same time as Steffl, during the 2019 season.

“Last year, she worked so hard and some of her dives just didn’t work for her last year,” Steffl said, “She came back this year and she has gotten every single dive that she was struggling with last year.” 

After spending years in an intense, achievement-driven environment at her gymnastics club, Steffl is now content and thrives in the more relaxed culture of the diving practices. She especially enjoys the laughs that she shares with her teammates at practices, specifically on the days they call “New Dive Tuesdays”. 

“We had one day where every single person that was there flopped at least one of their dives,” Steffl said. “We were all just like, ‘Well, we all tried something new, so it’s okay.’”

The 2020 season has only just come to an end, but Steffl is already setting ambitious goals for her senior season in 2021. 

“Next year, I would definitely like to place top three at Big 9 and top three at sections, and hopefully go to state,” she said. “I’d like to hit 230 to 240 on a six dive meet and 350+ on an eleven dive meet.”

In the future, Steffl hopes to dive for a college team. As a junior this year, she has begun to look at colleges and has already spoken to several different college coaches. It’s safe to say that, for someone who has only been diving for two years, Steffl certainly knows how to make a splash.