West/South Xtra: South Fayette senior ready to defend WPIAL diving title

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Since he began competing during his freshman year of high school, the diving ability of South Fayette's Stephen Zombek has always been evident.

In dual meets where divers perform six dives, it is easy to see his talent.

That talent becomes even more evident at invitationals where divers perform 11 dives.

Zombek, a senior, shines the brightest on the big stage. Last year he won the WPIAL Class AA diving championship, the first in program history. This season at the Big Six Meet at Central York High School, Zombek finished first in the six-team event with a score of 254.30, breaking his own pool record from last season. Zombek also won the diving competition at the West Allegheny Christmas Invitational in December.

At the North Allegheny Invitational last month, Zombek took third place competing against top Class AAA divers in the WPIAL. At that meet Zombek set the South Fayette 11-dive record with a score of 391.75. The record was more than a decade old.

"He strives on competition," South Fayette diving coach Chris Rebholz said. "He always wants to know where he is in the standings. It helps him and pushes him along."

Zombek is a rare WPIAL champion diver who is not a year-round diver. A wrestler in his younger days, Zombek taught himself a few maneuvers on a trampoline and he practiced diving when he could at Settler's Cabin wave pool where he is a lifeguard.

As a freshman he began diving for South Fayette High School and qualified for WPIAL championships in his first season. By his sophomore year he had qualified for states. Zombek still does not dive year-round -- he runs cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring where the 3,200-meter run is his best event.

Participation in other sports has hardly impacted his diving.

"He has progressed a lot," Rebholz said. "Anything I ask him to do, he is willing to try it. He is very powerful and he also has that grace behind his dives. Stephen kind of has the whole package. He is not a big kid but for as big as he is, he has some power."

After setting the six-dive school record last year on Valentine's Day in a dual meet, the 11-dive school record was a goal of Zombek entering his senior year.

"[Breaking the school 11-dive record] was my goal going to states," Zombek said. "It was nice to be able to do it at North Allegheny. I had a bad dive at the end, but other than that, it was cool going against great competition."

The fact Zombek was able to set the school record during the regular season, takes pressure off him entering Friday's WPIAL championships where he is the favorite. In fact, the Zombeks might be the family to beat at the WPIAL Class AA diving championships at South Park.

Zombek is the defending champion and he will receive a strong challenge from Beaver Area's Micah Ringer. Two other challenges will come from within his own team and family. Stephen's twin brother, Evan, has developed into a top diver this season and sophomore Nate Petrow is also progressing. Petrow and the Zombeks are cousins.

Stephen Zombek enjoys being surrounded by family in practice and meets and it beats the alternative like during his freshman year when there were only two divers on the team and his sophomore year when he was the only diver. Last season Petrow joined varsity and Evan Zombek began diving toward the end of the year.

"It is real cool, I never had a lot of teammates," Stephen Zombek said. "We're like a family diving team."

Stephen Zombek also competed at the WPIAL swimming championships last season, swimming in the 200-yard freestyle relay. This year he once again qualified for a WPIAL relay spot and he qualified for an individual event, the 100 backstroke.

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