STONE MOUNTAIN — C.J. Bennett had the Gwinnett County title won before stepping on the board for his final dive Saturday.
The Parkview junior was already 10 points ahead of runner-up Valentino Sorto when he ripped a difficult final effort for a score just shy of 50 points. Bennett, who was sixth at county as a freshman and sophomore, won the Gwinnett championship with 495 points.
“He’s come a long way as a diver since his freshman year, building a lot of confidence,” Panthers head coach Eric Brown said. “I’m really proud of him for that. The kid loves to try difficult things. He is an expert on the trampoline. That’s how we found him actually. He would post videos of himself doing crazy tricks on the trampoline and we recruited him for diving his freshman year. He’s matured so much from there, which is awesome.”
Last year, Bennett failed first dive at county last year and clawed his way to sixth place. On Saturday, there were no such mistakes. He had a 21-point cushion after the preliminary round and kept pushing. His final dive was a 2.7 degree of difficulty.
“I’m super happy about it,” said Bennett, who this year began training with the Georgia Dive Club at the University of Georgia. “I kept it pretty consistent. The first six were actually the best I’ve dived all season. I’m feeling great about (state).”
Sorto surged into second place — he was seventh after the cut at six dives — and finished with 435.65 points.
The junior was fifth at county last year. Sorto was a first-team all-county selection as a sophomore after coming in eighth at state. Bennett and Mill Creek’s Hunter Misuraca, who was third, were both second-team all-county last year. Misuraca put up 431.15 points Saturday.
Bennett led an impressive Parkview contingent. The Panthers had five of the top 10 divers after six rounds. Only four are allowed to score team points so the county coaches agreed to have 11 divers in the finals. The fifth Parkview diver’s scores would count in regard to state cuts, but in the official record, shows as an exhibition competitor.
Parkview collected points for fourth (Lance Deane, 462.75), fifth (Haven Maruyama, 420.80) and sixth place (Thomas Forbes, 418.50). Chas Ward’s total would have been good for eighth if there wasn’t a cap on how many scorers a school could have in any one event.
“Caleb Wikle is our dive coach and he’s done an awesome job,” Brown said. “All five of them are state qualifiers so it’s huge points for us heading into swimming (finals). This will be our highest scoring event of the meet.”
Rounding out the top 10 were North Gwinnett’s Nicholas Stark (414.75), Duluth’s Ian Joins (362.50), Grayson’s Stephen Muessle (356.80) and Collins Hill’s Austin Wahl (321.60).