In high school diving, every athlete is different.
Which makes Hersey's collective success on the boards that much more impressive.
Coached by Tom Schwab, the Huskies are closing in on a measure of excellence that demands acknowledgement: With just a couple of meets left on the boys' schedule this season, the Huskies divers are within reach of outscoring every opponent they're to face this school year in a dual meet setting.
That includes both boys and girls groups, who both face excellent competition from their Mid-Suburban League foes throughout the season.
But Hersey's emphasis on cooperation and togetherness has led to a mindset where team-first excellence is the norm.
"Both groups love to improve and achieve -- and hate to lose," said Schwab, described by several of his girls divers as super-competitive himself. "Their win-loss records are impressive, but their work ethic and positive mental attitudes are contagious, from one diver to another. That's the heart and soul of our program. That's overall teamwork, from the girls through the boys program."
This winter, senior Mat Obstoj and junior Jack Kintzle have been the top boys performers at the varsity level, with junior Joey McGovern and sophomores Danny Obyrlacz and Tucker Fenwick making big strides.
In the fall season, juniors Hannah Bovino, Megan Nocita and Annie Johnson made a habit of finishing 1-2-3 in duals, with senior Ally Neff, junior Rachael Duda and sophomore Kelly Haines providing depth on the team that won the Mid-Suburban East title for a sixth straight year.
Schwab's eyes light up when he fast-forwards to next fall, when the girls team may provide him with the deepest team he's ever had. That's saying a lot, with recent state meet qualifiers Katelyn Reszotko and Katie Dewar having come through the program.
Bovino finished second at the MSL meet, qualified for state and served as a team captain last fall, and Johnson, in her first season as a diver, won the JV conference meet.
With the current boys season starting to wind down, Obstoj (also a team captain) is hopeful that he can compete well at the conference and sectional meets, and ultimately earn a spot in the state meet.
Like all of Hersey's divers, though, Obstoj is most pleased with the group's overall winning effort, and he places the credit for that squarely with his coach.
"I think he's really great at finding out how to get the message across to every person," Obstoj said of Schwab. "Everyone of us on the team is really pretty different from everybody else, but he finds a way to get each person focused on improving."
The pattern for that success extends well beyond Schwab's current role with Hersey.
A standout at Waukegan High School, Schwab excelled at Northern Michigan in college and unofficially became the swimming and diving team's head coach as a graduate assistant.
That unique experience helped him eventually get his start with District 214 at Wheeling. There he developed standouts such as Lisa Goodman and Tim Mattson, who excelled in high school and went on to success on a national scale.
Schwab also had successful coaching stints at Prospect and Buffalo Grove and has played a key role along the way as an advocate for aquatics as the district grappled with where and when to build pools.
Mortensen said he believes Schwab's diverse background as an educator is one key. By his own estimation, Schwab says he's taught "about everything, at least once."
But his emphasis before retiring from teaching about seven years ago was teaching students with special needs, and the variety of that experience lends itself nicely to the diving well.
"I think one thing that really helps him is that he's had to solve a lot of different types of problems as an educator," said Hersey boys and girls swimming head coach Dick Mortensen. "I think he's able to look at things according to what's going to work for that person, and then adjust the teaching and the coaching as he needs to."
From a strategic standpoint, Hersey's strength on the boards is an enormous asset to Mortensen. Though diving only counts as 1 of the 12 events in a dual, Hersey's comparative strength in the event makes a big difference each time out.
"When I'm making out a lineup," said Mortensen, "I can pencil in 10 points for diving just about every time out. That's huge."
The fact that he's retired from teaching doesn't mean Schwab is planning to leave coaching behind anytime soon.
For one thing, he's got six grandchildren entering a phase where they're going to need him to coach their various teams.
And with birthday No. 65 approaching, he still gets a kick out of seeing his divers making individual gains that lead to cumulative success.
On Tuesday during practice at Olympic Pool, Schwab shared a story about how he'd helped a special needs student learn to make change for a dollar. For that individual, the key was the positive reinforcement that came with allowing the student to keep the change when he got it right.
Coaching the accomplished student-athlete divers at Hersey, of course, is different. But it turns out teaching these young men and women to perform acts of supreme difficulty in a very public setting has a similar arc.
"These divers set great goals," Schwab said. "They have desire, determination, enthusiasm and the love of the sport. They all have outstanding team spirit, the will to improve and win -- the will to excel under pressure with mental toughness.
"We believe that the goal-setting and work ethic that we have in our diving program will model future opportunities to a lifetime of achievement."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.