The lack of an operable diving board at Parkway South did not deter sophomore diver Brayden Escher’s drive to be a state champion. He traveled to Parkway West to practice each day. The two schools share diving coach Jenoa Olson.
“It is not easy to train in someone else’s facility while their swim program is training,” Olson said. “That dynamic forces the South divers to focus and put out an additional effort that other programs don’t. It also prohibits him from competing at any home meets that South hosted, widening the gap between the team bonding that is already difficult for a swimming and diving program.”
Despite those challenges, Escher recently won the Class 1 state diving championship at St. Peters Rec-Plex Nov. 14-16. He finished first with 464.45 points, narrowly defeating Park Hill South junior Greyson Langer, who wound up with 462.55 points.
“Finals came down to the very last dive with Greyson Langer finishing his meet up with a solid dive, which meant that mine had to be near perfect,” Escher said.
The Patriots sophomore did just that. He hit his front two-and-a-half tuck on Dive 11 to give him the winning margin.
“When I found out I won, it was surreal,” Escher said. “I realized that all the hard work and sacrifices shined that night.”
Escher became just the second Parkway South diver to win at state. Ryan Chambers won the diving title in 2001.
Parkway South coach Jeremy Nichols was excited to have a state champion.
“I jumped up and down and yelled and hugged Coach Olson,” Nichols said. “The boys at South have not had a state champion since 2010.”
That champion was Andrew Kilkenny in the 200 IM, who was a senior.
Olson also was elated with Escher’s victory.
“As a coach, your number one goal is for an athlete to see the results of the training and the time that they’ve put in,” Olson said.
Escher recorded several accomplishments during the regular season. He won the Suburban Conference Yellow Pool competition by setting a school record with his winning total of 516 points. Escher had set the previous record as a freshman with 477 points at the Cape Girardeau Invitational. Earlier this season, Escher won the Cape Girardeau Invitational for the second consecutive season. Escher’s only loss in an 11-dive meet in his career came in 2018 when he finished second at state.
According to Escher, his success comes from putting time into training.
“I worked hard, and often went to about two 2-hour practices per night during the week,” Escher said. “In the summer, I was going four hours a day five days a week.”
As a result, Escher was confident he would do well at state.
“My expectations were to dive the best I could, and leave satisfied with the work I put in, knowing I had a solid meet,” Escher said.
Nichols had high hopes for Escher.
“Honestly, I expected him to do his best,” Nichols said.
Escher did well in the first part of the competition that included five dives.
“He got the unlucky position to dive first, so I’m not sure the judges were ready to throw the 8’s and 9’s he is accustomed to receiving.”
However, he did earn the spot to go last in the finals.
“That was absolutely huge, both in confidence building and strategy,” Olson said. “He doesn’t have a weak dive in his entire list, but we knew he had to hit the mark on every dive. When participants complete the semifinal round, they are ranked from 16 to first, the diver in the first position dives last for each round. Brayden and his CDA training-mate Bennett Loving from Webster Groves had been in the top two positions the entire evening, but Grayson Langer from Park Hill South hit an incredibly difficult dive to leapfrog both of them going into the last round.”
It all came down to the last dive, which Escher nailed.
“Coach Jeremy and I were calculating scores the entire time and knew that Brayden needed 46 points on his last dive, a very accomplishable feat,” Olson said.
Escher credited his coaches and teammates with helping him to achieve his dream to win state. “I do hope to come back stronger next year,” Escher said.