Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Greenwich diver Grover adds to impressive winning streak
Let’s talk about dominating athletes in Connecticut high schools. Let’s talk about someone who always makes a big splash.
OK, not too big of a splash, because that isn’t a good thing in diving.
Whitaker Grover may not have an intimidating sounding name, but the Greenwich High senior is riding an especially intimidating winning streak.
Since James Ragusa of New Canaan beat him in his first dual meet as a freshman, Grover has won every time he has stepped on the diving board in CIAC competition.
Grover won his fourth FCIAC title on March 2. And, yes, that includes getting payback against Ragusa in the final performance before COVID-19 struck in 2020. With state competition wiped out for two years by the pandemic, the two-time All-American won his second Class LL title last Thursday in an especially tight finish with Ben Bradley of Brien McMahon.
Grover has an opportunity to win his second State Open on Thursday at Middletown in his final high school competition.
“I can’t say there is one specific thing that makes Whitaker a great diver,” his coach Kevin Thompson said. “The thing I admire most about him is his competitive nature that I haven’t seen in many athletes. He really knows what it takes to get the job done and he thrives through that pressure.”
Grover finished first in Class LL with a total score of 560.3. Bradley finished second at 559.3. It was that close.
“Ben had an incredible meet,” Grover said. “I had really good meet as well. It was head-to-head until the last dive.”
The two know each other well. They dove together for the Whirlwinds diving club at the New Canaan YMCA. Grover has since switched over to the Marlins at the Greenwich YMCA.
“Everyone on the pool deck just assumed Whitaker was going to win,” Thompson said. “He was above and beyond the best diver there. Ben had his moments, but Whitaker was the most consistent throughout the entire meet.
Still, it was a lot closer than all of us realized.”
Bradley went before Grover on the last dive.
“Whitaker has this great mind where he loves numbers and math and he’s calculating the score,” said Thompson, who won Class LL 20 years ago. “At the end of each round when they announced the placing, he took note of where he was and where Ben was. The next three dives he was keeping track and he knew his last dive would make or break the meet.
“Nobody else in that pool knew that. He’s carrying all that weight alone. I wouldn’t have even known it. We just went through the meet as if nothing had changed. His last dive wasn’t his best dive, but he did exactly what he needed to get the job done. He said, ‘I think I got him.’ Sure enough, it was a one-point difference.”
Grover began diving in the summer when he 7 at his local swim club at the Riverside Yacht Club. They were looking for boys of his age group to get into diving. It was all girls. His older brother joined him initially, but Whitaker was the only one who continued yearround through middle school and high school.
“I used to watch the older divers go about their business and do pretty difficult dives,” he said. “There are some incredible acrobatics and athleticism involved in the sport.”
Diving is extremely technical. First of all, there is the matter of overcoming any fears of any individual dives and being able to perform them in any context. That initially happens in practice with drills on the board or poolside. Each diver essentially has a set list of dives for competition, so there is a lot of muscle memory involved.
At dual meets, full teams are there. Swimmers are cheering through six dives. At conference and state competition, where there are 11 dives, diving is held on separate days. It is more like club diving, Grover said.
There is a degree of difficulty with each dive and on Thursday his four most challenging were a reverse 2½ tuck with a degree of difficulty of 3.0; an inward double (2.8); a forward 2½ pike (2.6); and a forward 1½ with two twists (2.6).
I’ve always wondered in
key moments does a diver get especially motivated? Or can that kick of adrenalin lead to mistakes?
“I think it is specific to each diver,” Grover said. “I think I thrive under pressure. When there’s one dive I know can make or break a meet, I tend to dig down dig and bring whatever I can to the surface. That works for me. For other people it’s about staying relaxed, listening to music between dives and not stressing about the meet environment. I like the pressure.”
If it sounds like numbers are whirling through Grover’s mind, you won’t be surprised he plans to major in computer science, economics or a combination at Yale.
“Yale is just an incredible school,” he said. “During the recruiting process, which I went through last year, it clearly stood out as the place I think I will find the most success and be the happiest.”
He points to Michael Hixon, the Amherst, Mass., native who dove for Drew and Jenny Johansen at Indiana as an inspiration. Hixon won the silver medal in synchronized diving at the Tokyo Olympics.
“His form is amazing,” Grover said. “Obviously he has taken it to the next level competing against the best ever in the world. but I think he shares that competitive nature I kind of have. I look up to that. I kind of made his characteristics my own, absorbed a lot of things.”
His grandfather, dad, and older brother all were named James, although his brother goes by Alden.
“Whitaker is a family name,” Grover said. “It is an interesting name. My parents were pretty confident apparently in choosing it.”
He’s not worried about making a splash as big as the state champion football team.
“Diving definitely is not one of the primary sports in terms of school spirit,” he said.
His goal is first to win the State Open, which he won last year with 565.25, and second break the school record of 585.25 by Justin Sodokoff at the 2017 State Open. Grover’s best is 569.10 in setting the FCIAC record in 2021.
“I think it’s doable,” Whitaker said.
You can see the numbers whirling in his head.