Chris Schulz Published

National Diving Competition Brings A New Sport, Development To The State

USA Diving Winter Championship at Mylan

Dozens of athletes from across the country converged on West Virginia last week for one of the biggest diving events in the country.

From Dec. 14 to Dec. 18, the Aquatic Center at Mylan Park in Morgantown was host to USA Diving’s Winter National Championship.

“It’s our top event of the year,” said Jen Lowery, communications director for USA Diving. “We’ve got about 150 of the nation’s top divers here competing for national titles. It’s a chance for them to all compete, see where they stand, earn national titles. And so it’s a fun week for them to all see each other.”

USA Diving is the country’s governing body for the sport, and selects and trains teams to represent the United States in major diving events including the Olympic Games. Lowery said one of the benefits of large events like the Winter Championship is not only to bring athletes together, but also to help prepare the next generation to represent the country.

“We certainly are always looking toward the future. We’ve got the Paris Olympics coming up in about a year and a half, but we also have LA 2028 in six years,” Lowery said. “We want to make sure that these younger divers, who are going to be representing the United States in Los Angeles in six years, get the experience they need so that they’re ready when it’s their turn.”

Samantha Pickens is one of the divers who competed last week. She traveled from Midland, Texas to compete in Morgantown, and on Wednesday, won a bronze in the women’s three meter synchronized dive.

“I just partnered up with a new new partner, and we tried for the first time about two days ago, never had done synchro before,” Pickens said. “So two practices together, and we made a podium third place finish. It was pretty awesome.”

While wins are always nice, after 15 years in the sport, Pickens said it’s the community that keeps her coming back, and the chance to pay it forward to the next generation.

“I think a lot of it is the community, the people, you meet so many great people. In USA Diving I’ve met just so many great people,” she said. “And now I’m coaching as well, so kind of giving back to what USA Diving has given me to give back to the younger generation. I love it. I don’t want to leave the sport ever.”

Pickens grew up in Myersville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Competing in Morgantown is something of a homecoming, and she said she’s excited to see such a modern facility in the region.

“This facility is fantastic here. I’ve never been here, this is my first time,” Pickens said. “To be so close to home and have such an amazing facility here so close to my hometown, and my family and everything like that, it’s been really awesome.”

Jennifer Lainhart is the director of Aquatics and Track Center Complex at Mylan Park. The Aquatic Center opened in 2019, but Mylan Park as a whole has been slowly growing and developing for more than 20 years, and hosting a national championship is something of a culmination.

“I think if you are aware of what was here prior to this, this is reclaimed surface mine land that Mylan Park, in conjunction with the local schools and some of the local government, really look to build and rebuild on and make it a space where a community could come together because it was a big open dirt space,” Lainhart said.

The Aquatic Center at Mylan Park has previously hosted other USA Diving and NCAA Diving events.

In September, Gov. Jim Justice announced that West Virginia submitted a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Diving Trials at Mylan Aquatic Center. The bid for the Olympic trials is set to be announced in the coming weeks, and the Mylan Aquatic Center could soon be hosting more world-class athletes. Regardless of the bid’s outcomes, Lainhart thinks the future is bright for the facility.

“We do think, whether or not we get it this year, that there’s an opportunity for a future year’s bid, even if it’s not this coming year, and then USA Diving has a number of events,” she said.

Mylan Park continues to expand. There are plans to build another world-class sports facility, this time for BMX racing, as well as a Kampgrounds of America location.

Opportunities abound, not just for the facility but for the community that it serves. Like Pickens, Lainhart sees the facility’s biggest value in its impact on the community.

“It’s a great event, it brings people to the area, introduces them to ‘Mountaineer Country’ and everything that we have to offer,” she said. “But it also introduces our kids to the sport of diving and allows them to see it and maybe think ‘Well, maybe I would like to try that someday.’ The hope is that we will build a community of diving around this. ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and so you have this world class facility where kids can start to gain interest in the sport.”