Izzy Olson might have the perfect temperament for competing in high school athletics during a pandemic.
She showed she had the skill Friday, Oct. 23, when she defended her Section 8-2A diving title with a winning score of 374.25. Surprisingly, it was the Brainerd Warriors’ and Olson’s first competition since Sept. 22 when they won a dual meet against Bemidji.
During that month away from competition, Olson and her diving teammates couldn’t practice for two weeks because of a COVID-19 cluster.
“She does have the perfect personality for this,” Brainerd diving coach Mary Streiff said. “She is very competitive and driven, but at the same time, she keeps that happy-go-lucky attitude and that serves her well.
“It’s really impressive. I was really proud of not only the way Izzy competed, but just handled everything from August that was thrown at us. It could have easily been used as an excuse for not performing. That’s not the kind of kid Izzy is. She took advantage of every day we had practice. Every day we could work, she worked.”
Despite a non-existent offseason and a regular-season of chaos, Olson said she was confident going into the section meet at Elk River.
“After the two-week reset, we had two weeks of consistent practice,” Olson said. “We had four other meets before that and then the two-week reset and then our two weeks of practice and then right into sections. I was looking at other peoples’ scores and I still knew that I could still win it. It was just about putting it all together.”
Warrior head coach Dan Anderson said Olson’s ability to ‘put it all together’ at the right time is a special gift.
“She’s just a gifted athlete for one,” Anderson said. “She’s just able to make her body do what it has to do without a lot of repetition. I would watch her from across the pool in practice. Many days she wasn’t having the best of days. She was just struggling, but she just has that ability when she needs to put a dive in she can put that dive in. Really it’s a pretty amazing gift that she has.”
Olson, who would have advanced to her third Class 2A state diving competition had one been scheduled, said she changed a few dives from last year’s state meet, but her order was very similar.
She switched in a back 1 ½ twist, 1 ½ flip, which increased her degree of difficulty.
“I think she started out in prelims, the first five dives, diving like we wanted her to,” Streiff said. “She had a big dive in the prelims that was relatively new to her. She learned it in the two weeks that we had to prepare for sections. We felt comfortable enough to put that in her section list. So it was nice to get through that dive in the prelims and she had the lead.”
Streiff felt the risk of the new dive wasn’t going to keep Olson out of the next round. In fact, the one dive Olson missed happened in the semifinals. It dropped the sophomore into second place going into the finals, but it didn’t take long for the veteran to retake the lead.
“She really took control of the competition right from dive one,” Streiff said.
Olson said she was in her element the entire competition. Even falling into second place after the semifinals didn’t shake her. She figured with her final three dives all she had to do was hit them and her degree of difficulty would carry her to the victory.
Brainerd divers didn’t get to compete in the Warriors’ season-opening dual against Fergus Falls because of a lack of practice time.
Olson opened the season with a first-place finish in a dual with Sauk Rapids. She scored 230.95 points. She backed that win up with a 233.50-point victory against St. Cloud Tech and then a 227.25-point win in the lone home meet for the Warriors against Willmar.
Against Bemidji, Olson finished second with 222.85 points.
“It was insanely hard to find a rhythm this season,” Olson said. “Honestly, after the two-week reset, I felt worse than I did coming into the first week of practice. It just felt like I was so out of sync with the board, especially on my back. I was just launching 10 feet away from the board. That’s an exaggeration, but it felt like it.
“I was able to pull it all together, which is fine, but it was frustrating just dealing with things that we can’t control. There was just no rhythm to the season.”
Olson was also coming off a disappointing state tournament appearance last season. Where she missed the cut for the finals by two spots. Olson finished 18th her freshman season at state.
Having a season and a section meet was vital to Olson who still would have like a shot at state redemption.
“It was so important, just knowing how bad I did at state last year,” Olson said. “Being able to come back and know that I can do all 11 dives, not technically every single one of them done perfectly, but all put in somewhat well. It was just such a relief off of my shoulders after what I did at state. It does kind of suck because I did well at sections this year under the circumstances we had, but not going to state to prove myself is kind of frustrating.”
With two seasons remaining, Olson should get a chance at that redemption.
“I’m really excited about how quickly she got back to where we left off last year,” Streiff said. “She did not get any board time this summer. We got off the boards in November at the state meet with kind of a bitter taste in her mouth and didn’t get on the board, with such a late start to our season in August, but within weeks she was really back to looking like where she left off last season. She’s made some improvements so I’m just really excited to get some summer work in. I know she has her eyes on a couple diving camps. I think she can step up her degree of difficulty on some things and clean up some things. She knows she has to clean up some entries on a few dives. There is always room to continue to grow and grow.”
Other notable performances
Ally Wolden, girls soccer, scored a goal against Maple Grove in the Section 8-2A semifinals.
Nathaniel Staehling, football, rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown and threw for 46 yards and a touchdown against Alexandria.
Gabby VanHorn, swimming and diving, finished third in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Section 8-2A finals.
Sport: Swimming and diving
Career highlight: Advancing to state in all three of her sports
Other sports: Gymnastics and golf
Grade-point average: 4.042
Favorite class: Advanced Algebra
Favorite food: Peanut butter toast
Favorite movie: “Lion King” old version
Favorite TV show: “Hawaii Five-O
Favorite website or app: Snapchat
Favorite restaurant: Zorbaz in Lake Shore
Future plans: Attend college and purse a degree in engineering
Favorite athlete: Tiger Woods
Parents: Holly and Chris Olson