Four years of severe back pain caused by bulging discs ended Sydney Dusel’s promising gymnastics career.
But that setback turned out to be a case of one door closing and another opening.
Dusel took her athleticism to diving and became an overnight phenom. She ended her first year of competing last fall by becoming the first Naperville Central girl to win a state diving championship.
Now the junior is poised for more. In an unexpected twist of fate, Dusel, 16, is being touted as potentially one of the best divers in state history
“I don’t believe I would have [tried diving] because I had been doing gymnastics my whole life and I never thought anything would change until I got hurt,” Dusel said. “But when I started diving I didn’t think [I’d be good], until a year later I was like, ‘Wow, I really caught on to this.’”
Dusel broke the school record by scoring a pool-record 460.25 points at the Neuqua Valley Sectional. She followed up with a flawless performance at state, scoring 450.25 points to beat New Trier’s Julia Corby by 24.
Only three other Illinois girls have surpassed that total. One of them was Deerfield’s Christina Loukas, who was the last three-time state champion and went on to become a two-time Olympian. Loukas holds the state record of 507.55, set in 2003.
“My goals for the next two years for high school is obviously to keep my state champion title and then I also want to go for the state record if I can, maybe not this year but next year,” Dusel said.
Naperville Central diving coach Dave Likar, who was Loukas’ teammate in club, thinks Dusel has the potential to be a three-time winner like Loukas.
“It’s hard to compare her to that caliber right now but if she keeps on working hard she’ll have the ability to be a top national diver and pretty much be able to choose wherever she wants to go to college,” Likar said. “The sky is the limit for Sydney. She got a little bit of a late start but she’s jumped up the ladder quickly.”
Indeed, Dusel was an unknown commodity even at her own school, where Sophia Heiser was a returning state medalist. Now everyone at Central knows her name, which is emblazoned on the wall of the natatorium.
“I got a lot of attention after state,” Dusel said. “I had no idea I would get that much. It’s a great thing.”
Dusel knows that every other diver, including Heiser, who was ninth last year, is out to take her crown, but a summer of weightlifting has increased her leg strength, allowing her to jump higher and add difficulty.
“Her reverses are so high,” Likar said. “You rarely see a girl try a reverse 2 ½ on one-meter. I’ve seen her do one. It’s not ready to go in the meet or anything but I think … she might be able to do it one day … and that would be the first time I’ve ever seen a girl compete that dive.”
While her back pain hasn’t completely gone away, Dusel credits her chiropractor, Mark Frahm, for keeping her body in shape. She will do the rest.
“The great thing about Sydney is she knows what she wants,” Likar said. “Rarely do you find a girl of her age who knows what she wants. When you have somebody who knows what they need to do to get there, the job becomes very easy as a coach.”
MaryClaire Webb, the last of four sisters to swim at Benet, is back for her final season after missing a medal in the 100 free by .01 seconds. Seniors Alanna Galvin, Laura Mathews and Kelly Wentland have state experience.
Juniors Madie Sandberg and Amanda Burson are back after earning state medals for finishing 11th in the 100 freestyle and 50 freestyle, respectively, as are backstroke qualifiers Hannah Davidson and Jacquelyn Kurkjian.
The Redhawks, a potential top 10 team, will score a lot of points in diving with reigning state champ Sydney Dusel and two-time medalist Sophia Heiser. Junior Sydney Weeks leads in the pool.
Senior Devin Jacobs, a state medalist in the 200 individual medley, opted to do club swimming, but junior state qualifiers Taylor Stoner and Katie Horn return.
Senior Natalie McGovern is a threat to win state in the backstroke. Other returning state qualifiers include Mackenzie Hornstra, Bhavya Kumaran and Amanda Brockmeier and divers Lauren Beyer and Michelle Roth.
Star Madeline Hunt graduated but her sophomore sister, Hannah, is a rising force in the breaststroke. Junior Avery Mathew qualified for state in the 50 free and 100 free last year.