Eighth-grader Izzy Olson stands less than 5 feet tall but that height in no way measures her level of intensity on a diving board.
"She's tiny," Brainerd Warrior diving coach Mary Streiff says, "but she dives with a ferocious bark. She's not to be messed with in her element on the board."
Olson's ferocity was evident during the Section 8-2A swimming and diving meet at St. Cloud Tech where she qualified for this week's state meet at the University of Minnesota. A third-place finish garnered her one of the section's four spots at state.
Olson was in fourth place entering the section finals where she nailed her last three dives.
"In my finals, I have a really good (degree of difficulty)," Olson said. "I knew I could get 40 points on my first two. My last dive was not very good. My back one and a half twister was a great dive. I usually always hit that one. I got like 41 points on it which really helped me. That brought me into third place.
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- Sport: Diving
- Year: Eighth grade
- Age: 13
- Height: 4-foot-11 1/4
- Career highlight: Qualifying for Class 2A state diving meet
- Other sports: Golf, gymnastics
- Grade-point average: 4.0
- Favorite class: Math
- Favorite food: White rice
- Favorite movie: "Happy Gilmore"
- Favorite TV show: "Grey's Anatomy" and "Friends"
- Favorite website: Snapchat.com
- Favorite restaurant: Panera Bread
- Future plans: Hopes to dive in college
- Favorite diver: Olympian Kassidy Cook
- Parents: Holly and Chris Olson
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"On my back one and a half, I just thought 'Do it how you're trained and you'll be fine' so I let my body do that. I went a little bit over but it still was fine. Then my back two and a half twister was not good but I was still far enough ahead of (the fourth-place) girl so I could pull off third place."
Streiff said diving in the section finals can be a bit intimidating, particularly for an eighth-grader.
"It's a big arena to compete in," Streiff said. "The stands are packed. All the swimmers are there. The energy-you really can't duplicate that until you've been there as a competitor.
"She did not compete in the (section) finals last year as a seventh-grader. She watched because she had already gotten cut. I have to say I was pretty nervous thinking about how this young lady, as an eighth-grader, was going to step up but she did."
However, Olson's section finish didn't surprise her coach.
"We knew we had the degree of difficulty in her dives to dive pretty safely into the finals," Streiff said. "We knew she would be in the top 16 barring a disaster. She placed herself about where I thought she was going to.
"In the weeks leading up to (sections), we had prepared her (dive) list. She knew it was going to be a dogfight for second, third and fourth, which is what it ended up being."
What makes Olson's accomplishment possibly surprising is the fact she's only in her second year of competitive diving.
"My diving was pretty good for my first year," she said. "I was pretty satisfied with it. A couple meets were bad, then I had some really good meets. My coaches were amazing and my teammates were really encouraging."
Streiff said it was probably not surprising that Olson struggled in big meets as a seventh-grader.
"I think her inexperience in those big competitions kind of showed last year," Streiff said, "and she would agree with me-I think. It's been so fun to watch her develop as a competitor.
"Her natural nature is she's real competitive. But it's one thing to think you're a competitor and another to go out and do it."
In 11 dual meets this season, Olson won five times, was runner-up three times and third once. In invitationals against large fields of divers, she attained a second place, one third and one fourth. She and Emma Korhonen gave Brainerd a solid 1-2 punch on the board.
"This year was good, a big improvement from last year. I was very happy with that," Olson said. "Me and Emma were pretty close all the time. It was good to have a competitor with me and her going back and forth. She was out for a little bit (with a concussion) but I'm happy with how I've been doing.
"I had a couple meets that were just off, but we're all going to have those. Then I had those really good meets where you (set a personal best) and you're super happy and satisfied."
Korhonen finished fifth in the section, just two points out of qualifying for state.
"It was really close competition there," Streiff said. "She and Emma went back and forth (all season). Emma was out for a while with a concussion. Izzy stepped up during that time and took that leadership role of being our No. 1 diver."
Olson's goal this week is to make the final round of 16 divers who will compete in Friday's championship round.
"I have to hit all my dives because that's what you have to do competing with the best of the best," she said. "... I'm really excited because it's a different atmosphere. I've never been in there. It's huge and it's really nice so the boards will be good. I'm just super excited to see that pool."