MOLINE — Diving is as much mental as it is physical for Moline senior Taylor Puglisi.
Aligning those two aspects in diving helped her evolve from an admittedly nervous first-time diver her freshman year, to now a record holder in the Western Big 6 Conference.
Her physical determination and intellect also extend beyond the diving board for Puglisi, this week’s Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline Metro Pacesetter.
Another offseason of diving practice, another season of pole vault, and physical training on her own all contributed to Saturday’s record-breaking one-meter 11 dives in Galesburg. The addition of a new difficult dive — a front one-and-a-half full twist — to her list, also helped score a conference record and personal best 426.35.
But breaking diving records isn’t the only source of motivation for Puglisi, who has goals of attending a service academy after high school. She has applied for three branches and has trained for the Air Force Academy and West Point. She was accepted to spend a week at an Air Force Academy summer program going through mock basic training at 5 a.m.
“All of the physical training that I’ve done for those two colleges has really helped me out with diving. I’ve been doing lots of weight lifting and flexibility things,” said Puglisi, who has also trained in club diving with Bettendorf coach Mary Doerder for four years. “And all of it has really helped me get to the point I want to be with all of these physical dives. Because a lot of them are about strength now, so I have to have a lot of arm and abdominal strength to throw these harder (dives).”
The three-time conference diving champion and two-time state qualifier has continued to leave her mark as a senior diver, helping Moline repeat as Big 6 champion for the first time since the Maroons stacked conference titles from 1985-88. Puglisi set Moline’s school 6-dive record (293) this season on senior night against Davenport Central, and broke pool marks at both United Township and Galesburg.
Next up on her list of goals is Katherine Douglas’ 433.90 11-dive record at Moline from 2016. Puglisi is confident it can be done with some cleaner dives at the Nov. 16 UT Sectional, another meet in which she hopes to set the diving record. She crossed paths with Douglas at Moline’s school play and got some words of encouragement and congrats for the 6-dive record. Douglas owned the previous conference record of 421.05 from 2016, Puglisi’s freshman year.
Puglisi said her latest dive, which consists of doing a flip-and-a-half while fully twisting around, basically ends with a blind entry into the water. Executing a dive like that or breaking the conference record is something she couldn’t have imagined when thinking back to how she started high school diving as just a “noobie.”
But the confidence in her diving and mental clarity are things that have grown over the years for Puglisi, who is also ranked No. 7 academically out of 488 in her class with a 4.8 weighted GPA. She plans to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.
“In years past, I honestly have been nervous about diving,” Puglisi said. “But this year, I’ve really worked on confidence and making sure that whenever I walk into a meet, I feel fine. And I think that’s really what did it with the (new dive). I have the strength and I have the knowledge, I just needed to get the confidence there.”
That’s been a recipe for success that pairs well with chasing records.
“The records have been a huge part of this, because they do offer me something to look at and say, I need to beat that,” Puglisi said. “I honestly never knew that I would be able to beat that, but this year, to see that the numbers I’m getting mean something and they’re going on a record board, it does help me stay motivated.”
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The support of her parents and guidance from Moline’s third-year diving coach, Joel Delp, has also been important. Delp also instructed Puglisi in the pole vault for four years, so he’s seen her dedication in both sports. Whether that means helping the other divers or bringing her enthusiasm to swim events when called upon.
“Overall she’s just a positive force on the team,” Delp said. “Always uplifting and encouraging people. She just helps everybody to have a good time.”
Setting an example for the other divers as a senior is something Puglisi said she doesn’t take lightly.
“I genuinely enjoy teaching the girls what I’ve learned,” said Puglisi, who highlighted the successes of sophomore Maroon Dylan Shrake, who finished third at conference.
Outside of diving, Puglisi is active in karate and teaches five-to-seven-year-olds at Next Level Fitness & Athletics in gymnastics, the sport she has a longest history in.
Puglisi said she’s come a long way from a nervous freshman diver, eventually taking to the sport and continuing to work hard in it.
“This year, I had a feeling I could break records, but the freshman version of myself never would have seen this coming,” said Puglisi.
The emphasis on being well-rounded in diving is what’s drawn her to the sport.
“Diving is a very mental sport. When you have the physical ability, it’s fine in diving. But just because you’re strong, it doesn’t mean you can do a dive,” Puglisi said. “It’s all about the concentration and focus you have on your dives. If you can be just as mentally tough as you are physically, you can dive. And that is what I really admire about the sport.”
Being sharp, mentally and physically, is also what draws her to the service academies.
“As you’re getting an education and a major in whatever field you decide to go into, you’re getting military training, physical training, and you are learning how to be a leader,” Puglisi said. “Just as I’ve really enjoyed the whole coaching thing and being a team captain, I really do like being in a leadership role. I like helping other people and being able to use my knowledge to help others.”
For diving, it’s all about timing. And Puglisi’s success is peaking at the perfect moment.
“As a senior, when everything is kind of coming together and it’s my final time with the team, it means a lot more to have these accomplishments and celebrate them with the whole team,” Puglisi said. “When I’m team captain, I’m able to set a good example for the other girls and let them know that it is possible to be breaking records. It just takes time and practice.”