THORNTON — Back when she was a sophomore, Fairview's Julia Benz had direct tutelage from the Knights' only state diving champion, 2006 title winner Meili Carpenter.
As a senior in just her fourth year of diving, Benz has her sights set on being FHS' second gold medalist in the event. Trying to unseat defending champion McKensi Austin of Regis Jesuit might be pretty daunting, but Benz got the chance to see what she was up against at Friday's Mountain Range Mustang Diving Invitational.
Austin showed some panache at the event at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton by winning with a score of 513 points, but the evening also revealed Benz is right in the mix. With several divers in attendance who either placed at state last year or appear to be on their way, Benz finished in second place with 471.60 points.
"I've been working hard on some new dives, just to get more twists and flips, and it would be incredible to be able to get that title," said Benz, who will be diving for Brown University in the near future. "I know I'm going to need more training (to beat Austin) and perfect new dives. I've got a couple new twisters this year that can be good. But I feel good right now."
Benz finished sixth at state last year after an 11th place finish as a sophomore. Benz, a former gymnast, said she received ample advice from Carpenter and that motivated her to take diving completely seriously.
This year, her degree of difficulty is spiking already.
"Meili honestly set off my career in diving, because it was only my second year and she just got me so much more height and spin," Benz said. "She gave me just a lot of motivation. As a senior, I do want to get more points for my team, and continue to do better and beat my (personal) records."
"She's one of the more determined divers out there, and she's really a perfectionist when it comes to diving," said Fairview assistant coach Heather Preusser, in her first year. "I know she has some dives that will increase that degree of difficulty, and she has time to make that happen."
Austin and Benz weren't the only divers at Friday's meet who will be in the hunt for a state title. Legacy's Taylor Clark was great in her own backyard, placing third with 413.80 points — ahead of 2015 state placers Anne Marie Kenny (Regis) and Mackenzie Blomquist (Pine Creek).
Niwot's Maddie Barkow also showed once again she's ready to take the bull by the horns in 4A. Already a winner at the Colorado Coaches Invitational, another huge regular season meet, Barkow placed sixth with 394.80 points.
Broomfield's Kathryn Conn placed 10th with 375.45 points, and 15 divers made the 300-point plateau that represents qualifying for the state meet. That total has to be achieved twice during the season.
Mustang Diving Invitational
Final results — 1. McKensi Austin, Regis Jesuit, 513.00 points; 2. Julia Benz, Fairview, 471.60; 3. Taylor Clark, Legacy, 413.60; 4. Rachel Holland, Rocky Mountain, 405.05; 5. Mackenzie Blomquist, Pine Creek, 399.25; 6. Maddie Barkow, Niwot, 394.80; 7. Anne Marie Kenny, Regis Jesuit, 387.80; 8. Makenna Sanger, Windsor, 382.05; 9. Alaina Hellenberg, Skyline, 376.40; 10. Kathryn Conn, Broomfield, 375.75; 11. Christie Yee, Cherokee Trail, 359.50; 12. Nichole Shember, Fossil Ridge, 347.80; 13. Brooke Schimmels, Fossil Ridge, 336.10; 14. Sarah Fangrow, Cherokee Trail, 324.75; 15. Kayla Rosentrater, Horizon, 300.40; 16. Stephanie Molitor, Legacy, 284.10.