MADISON — When her hotel alarm clock sounded in Madison at 6:45 Saturday morning, Tatum Thompkins tried to convince herself she was feeling well. She even gave herself a pep talk for the WIAA State Girls Swimming and Diving Championships that day, but it wasn’t working.
It wasn’t until Thompkins started with her practice dives at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium at 8:15 a.m. that everything started to feel right. And by the time she left Madison that afternoon, the Case High School junior was clutching a gold medal as the Division 1 diving champion.
Thompkins, who was fifth as a sophomore with a score of 465.50 — the 10th-highest score in state tournament history — replaced that on the all-time list with a 466.50 Saturday. Caitlin Locante of Brookfield Central was second (442.90) and Case freshman McKenzie Sanchez was fifth (423.05).
Also medaling Saturday in Division 1 was Case junior Emily Bollendorf, who was sixth in the 100-yard butterfly (56.33 seconds).
“I had a good warmup, so that really helped me be confident for the meet,” Thompkins said.
There was another factor that was instrumental in her big day. And that was Sanchez, who whose fifth-place finish came less than four months after the accomplished gymnast took up diving for the first time.
When the leaders were announced after the fifth dive Saturday, Sanchez was in first place. Even though Thompkins and Sanchez cheer each other on during competition, each has a competitive drive. And the competitor in Thompkins was not pleased that she wasn’t leading at that point.
“After I heard that I was in first, I was really shocked,” Sanchez said. “And I could hear Tatum saying, ‘I can do this. I’m still fine.’ “
That she was. Taking the counsel of diving coach Dave Arvai to heart — and that was to simply strive for consistency — Thompkins nailed her dives in succession. Maybe none were outstanding by her standards. But there were also no busts either.
“She was consistent with 7s and 7½s,” said Arvai, who also coached Cassidy Bose and Aubrey Griffiths to four medal performances at state since 2008.
And now Thompkins has another season to build on her performance after already achieving the satisfaction of a gold medal.
“Next year, I feel it’s not going to be as nerve-wracking and as scary because I’ve already done it,” Thompkins said.
This trend of local diving excellence could continue indefinitely, especially with Sanchez making a name for herself.
“This means a lot to me because I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for Dave and all his coaching,” said Sanchez, who competed with a sore left ankle she rolled Tuesday at gymnastics practice in Kenosha.
After finishing ninth last season in 57.78 seconds, Bollendorf showed a substantial improvement with her time. A great deal of effort went into that.
“I was training really hard,” said Bollendorf, who also was 20th in the 50 freestyle (24.84). “There were all those morning practices before school and I lifted weights also. I just put everything into every practice that I could.”
Meredith Freidheim was also instrumental in Case finishing 13th with 47 points — its highest finish since it placed 10th in 2008. Freidheim placed 17th in the 100 breaststroke with a personal-best time of 1:07.33 she wasn’t necessarily expecting.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even focusing on getting a best time,” she said. “I just was happy to be there. Getting a best time was really just a cherry on top of the cake.”
Here are how other Racine County qualifiers fared Saturday in the Division 1 meet:
- Olivia Wanasek of the Burlington Co-op was 21st in the 200 freestyle (1:58.40).
- In the 50 freestyle, DeAnn Jones of the Burlington Co-op was 18th (24.80) and Sinclair Richards of Horlick was 23rd (25.20).
- The Burlington Co-op 400 freestyle relay of Morgan Traughber, Wanasek, Alyssa Hyland and Jones was 18th (3:41.82). Those same four were 21st (1:41.92) in the 200 freestyle relay.