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Lake works to top of state's diving ladder

CHAMPION: Oak Hill's Caiden Lake is ready to take flight for one of his state championship winning dives on Feb. 23. In four years, Lake's dedication and hard work elevated him from a beginner to a state champion. He is Grant County's top winter athlete.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Four short years after he first stepped foot on a diving board, Caiden Lake reached the pinnacle of his sport.

A former football player turned diving standout, Lake rallied to win the 1-meter competition at the Feb. 23 IHSAA state finals and become Oak Hill's first individual state champion in aquatic sports. Lake's performance earned the senior the Chronicle-Tribune's 2018-19 top winter sports athlete honor.

It was a remarkable season for Grant County athletes and teams, including Oak Hill capturing the Class 2A girls' basketball state championship on the same day as Lake won diving state. Four wrestlers advanced to state with the Golden Eagles' Stewart Mossholder, Harper Dedman and Bradley Rosman earning medals, and the Eagles' 200-yard freestyle girls' swim team competed in the state meet.

Yet, Lake stood above the rest with his milestone achievement, the result of endless hours of hard work and determination. As a late starter, Lake knew he had to catch up with other competitors who had spent years perfecting their dives. A disappointing 19th finish at state the previous year was the motivation to excel in his senior season.

"I worked really hard to get to this point," Lake said Thursday afternoon. "I'm just glad that I made everyone proud and all their support didn't go to a second place finish.

"(Last year's finish) lit a fire under me. It really burnt me and I spent the last year doing absolutely nothing but diving and put in a lot of hours. I wasn't going to come up short again," he added.

Bobby Hart, Oak Hill diving coach, said his prized pupil's competitive streak was evident in the state finals. In third place, 15 points behind heading into the finals, Lake put together his best dives in the final two rounds and edged out Seymour's Devin Ramsey to win the title by exactly three points.

"He's a grinder and he's a gamer when it counts," Hart said of Lake. "He needed that (last) dive and he knew it and he hit that dive better than anything he hit all year."

Lake's penultimate dive, a reverse 2 1/2 pike, actually put Lake ahead in the 11-dive competition and it was only the second time he attempted it the entire season.

"We didn't even do in sectional or regional," Hart said. "We put it in because we knew we needed it to win state. I couldn't believe his 10th and 11th dives and how he put them in. It was unbelievable."

Lake began his finals program with a reverse twister that scored 56 points and put him in position to challenge for the state title. His final score of 525.85 points eclipsed his school record set as a junior and something he took nearly as much pride in as the championship.

"I beat it by five points," Lake said. "I didn't expect to break the record this year, not for 11 dives. That was almost as exciting as winning because breaking it at a state meet is different than breaking it at the Oak Hill Invite. You have actual (top line) judges.

Oak Hill also had Janae Moffitt capture two IHSAA girls' track and field state high jump state championships in 2013 and '15, and Lake is the just the school's second individual to finish at the top of a state finals event. Lake only became a diver in his freshman year at Oak Hill and it has been remarkable he has reached the highest level in such a short time.

"My proudest accomplishment is coming this far in so little time, and I had no gymnastics background," Lake said. "I was a football player and ended up a diver, and I'm really proud of that.

"I started diving at age 14 ... and that's really late," he continued. "People I dive with in the summer, they started when they were age five or six and they do it every day. That's why they are competing internationally. To be honest, if I started that early I'd be in the same spot."

Hart said Lake's athletic ability has allowed him to catch up and even pass more experienced divers in just four years. The athletic ability also allows Lake excel even though his lanky 6-foot, 175-pound frame is considered a drawback in competitive diving. 

"He's a superb athlete," Hart said. "Whatever sport he's wants to do he's going to excel at it. He was a great football player, he's a great pole vaulter and he's a heck of a diver.

"He has a lot of self motivation and stands out from other athletes," Hart added. "I preach to him if you want to perform in front of thousands, you first got to perform when no one's watching, and he's the perfect example of that."

Lake isn't done with diving by any stretch and will compete in USA competition beginning later this month before moving on to college. He is visiting the University of Kentucky this weekend and will make his decision next week.

But Lake holds more than diving records; he also set Oak Hill's pole vault standard in track and field last spring. Another IHSAA state finals trip, this time in early June at Indiana University's track stadium, is a distinct possibility.

"In all honesty, I always thought of the pole vault as an opportunity to relax and have some fun in competition," he said. "I will be happy with wherever it takes me. I'm still diving and have the USA season coming up."