Franklin Regional diver caps high school career with 4th PIAA gold
Franklin Regional swim coach Vic Santoro always has a good view when diving opens a dual meet.
Even though he usually is pacing the pool deck, scrambling around to set his lineup and motivating his swimmers for their upcoming events, he makes sure to keep both eyes on the board because something amazing just might happen.
And when things did happen over the last four years, it came as no surprise.
Senior Samantha Pickens has awed her teammates, coaches, competitors and fans with her aerial artistry above the water, and after four medal-laden years of titles and broken records, the Arizona-bound Lady Panther ended her career as the best female diver in Pennsylvania high school history.
"We've been spoiled to witness such a great athlete," Santoro said. "You watch her during a meet, and it's like artwork with her up on that board. I feel lucky that I've had the chance to watch someone as talented as Samantha."
Pickens capped off her career and senior season last week the same way she ended her previous three winters -- with a PIAA gold medal around her neck.
"It can't really get any better than this," she said.
Last Thursday, Pickens scored 503.10 points over 11 dives to win her fourth PIAA championship at Bucknell University.
"It feels pretty good," she said. "The fourth time is definitely the best."
Pickens had hopes of breaking the PIAA record set in 1998 by Jennifer O'Brien, but some tough scoring by the judges last week kept her nearly 14 points short of her goal.
"The state record was what I wanted, and I came up pretty short. I wasn't too happy with the way I dove, but I guess a win is a win," she said.
"A lot of people have told me this too. The judging was a lot harder than I expected. I felt pretty good through all my dives. I watched them on tape, and they looked pretty good. I guess the judges thought otherwise."
The FR senior led by just 6.95 points over Cedar Cliff's Rachel Muma after the preliminary round of five dives. After three more dives in the semifinals, Pickens had extended her lead to 23.50 points. And with her 10th dive, Pickens clinched a victory but knew she had fallen short of the state record. Her 11th dive just added to her 50.45-point triumph.
"I just went out and did my last dive the way I could do it," she said.
FR diving coach John Dusche echoed Pickens' thoughts on the judging but couldn't have been happier for his prize pupil, who most recently broke her own district record (605.55) at the WPIAL championships.
"I think she dove very well," Dusche said. "She didn't get the scoring that she did at WPIALs, but I think she dove probably about as good as she did at WPIALs."
Pickens' illustrious high school career also included three WPIAL championships and four Westmoreland County titles. Her only loss came her freshman year at the WPIAL meet, as she finished second to Pitt Aquatics Club teammate Amanda Lohman.
"I think that she is probably one of the top two divers in the history of the state of Pennsylvania, as far back as I go," Dusche said. "I think (Montour grad) Cassidy Krug is up there, but I think Sam is a better diver at this point in her career."
Krug is a three-time PIAA champion and went on to a sterling career at Stanford. Pickens has the same drive to succeed and hopes her ability will take her to new heights.
"It's tough (to see it end), but it will be nice to move on to bigger things, like college," she said.
Pickens will continue her career at the University of Arizona next fall, but for those who saw her perform each winter high above the pool, they know there could be a bigger future out there for her.
"It's hard to believe that in the four years that she's accomplished what she has," Santoro said. "For a lot of us who have taken it for granted, we've been able to watch this girl all four years. Maybe someday, we'll be lucky enough to see her in the Olympics, diving for the United States."