Eight points. You can see the internal struggle on Lauren Henderson’s smiling face when she talks about the margin between first and third at the state diving meet this year.
Henderson’s third-place finish was the best of her short diving career and two spots better than a year ago. But it’s also hard not to think about where a margin that small might have been made up over the course of 12 dives.
“Part of me, I was happy because I improved,” Henderson said. “It’s just, losing is not the best feeling, and being that close, it was hard. But I’m still happy with how everything finished.”
Dacula’s Henderson is the Daily Post Girls Diver of the Year for the second straight season and capped a meteoric rise in the sport with a score of 562.05 in the new format at state. She was 12th as a freshman and a sophomore after a lifetime of gymnastics.
“This year I was a lot more confident,” she said. “I really just focused on improving from last year and the small details I learned mattered a lot. So I felt more confident. I definitely noticed I improved since last year.”
Henderson won the Gwinnett County meet for the second straight year and broke her friend Ambria D’Alonzo’s record in the process. Her 493.25 total was more than 50 points ahead of second place and 16.35 better than D’Alonzo’s mark.
Except for state, Henderson was undefeated as a senior.
“All the hard work is paying off,” Henderson said. “I upgraded a lot. All around I feel like I improved in every category.”
She’s benefiting from a new coaching perspective as well. Henderson trains at Georgia Dive Club and had only worked with Jonathan Fennelly until this year. Fennelly went to law school and the club brought in two-time Olympian and UGA record holder Chris Colwill.
“At first, I was kind of questioning it, just when we didn’t know who the new coach was going to be,” Henderson said with a laugh. “But coming in, Chris has been amazing. Obviously he knows what he’s talking about and I love him.”
Colwill, a 12-time All-American at Georgia and the Bulldogs’ own diving coach, represented the U.S. at the 2008 and 2012 Games.
“Both coaches push you equally,” Henderson said. “Overall, as a coach, I really like him. His coaching style is positive. He doesn’t give up on you.
“Especially being in our shoes, and being in the Olympics two times, he knows what we’re going through and what is going through our minds.”
Henderson is still weighing her college options, but is pretty sure it’ll either be Marshall or Georgia Southern.
“I really love both teams and both coaches,” she said. “Part of Southern is how close it is to home. But then again, I do what to try to get away. At some point, I have to go be on my own. I don’t know if that’ll bother me or not. It’s going to be a tough decision because I like them both.”
Her diving schedule ramps up again as the club team prepared for regionals at Florida State next month. Henderson is headed to North Carolina for a meet this weekend and is looking forward to seeing where she stacks up.
“Since I haven’t been to a club meet in a while, I don’t really know, but after this weekend, I feel like I’ll have a better idea of where I’m at,” she said.
Last year was her first competing at regionals. Even as a sophomore, Henderson hadn’t completely given up on gymnastics and was splitting time between the two sports. She qualified for zones and is aiming to take the next step this year.
“I’m glad the 15 years of hard work paid off,” Henderson said. “Even though it’s not gymnastics, that played a major role. It’s just great to see everything you’ve worked for this hard and long paying off.”
This wasn’t the plan when she was 13.
“But plans change,” the effervescent blonde said with a shrug and a grin.