After four years of Regis Jesuit's Kyle Goodwin reigning supreme over the Class 5A state diving arena, the question last year was who would be his successor?

Having finished second the previous season, Smoky Hill's Devin Bellamy was the early favorite. But a wave of underclassmen invaded the finals – nine of the 16 finalists were sophomores – and a strong finish helped Bear Creek's Octavio Lucero claiming the top spot by nearly 70 points.

“It was a powerful moment,” Lucero said.

It would make sense then for the Bears junior to enter 2017 as the diver to beat in the 5A ranks. For the rest of the state that may be the case – but it isn’t for Lucero.

Instead, he will treat the upcoming season as if he isn’t the defending champion in order to maintain that same drive and hunger.

“We’re looking at it as he has quite a few kids that he has to beat,” said Laura Waggoner, Lucero’s diving coach. “We’re not going into it confident – we’re going into it with a job to do. Now we’re training with a job and a purpose in mind.”

Of the 16 finalists last spring, only three were seniors. The rest of the field returns, including state runner-up Caleb Ives of Arapahoe. Lewis-Palmer’s Noah Bettner and Fairview’s Duncan Lester rounded out the top five in 2016 as juniors.

In 4A, only two of the final 16 were seniors, and Valor Christian’s Casey Fellows won state as a freshman. Lucero and Ives finished fourth and fifth in 5A as freshmen in 2015, part of a youth infusion that included four freshmen in the top 16.

“Normally if you’re a really good diver you’re going to dive on a club team in the offseason,” said Waggoner, who also coaches divers at Lakewood and Mullen, and occasionally Golden. “Some of the top divers from last year came from smaller teams, and some kids were just diving for their high school coach. It says a lot about my colleagues in diving. I think there are some amazing coaches out there doing wonders for their kids.”

Lucero’s path into the sport may not be the most typical. He got his start as a gymnast, but after sustaining a few ankle injuries, he made the switch to diving before entering middle school.

In a sport that’s centered around quiet and concentration, Lucero also thrives in a different atmosphere.

“I like it at state when the swimmers go at the same time,” he said. “I like that noise. I think it’s more intimidating when it’s quiet.”

He picked up a few lessons along the way from watching Goodwin at state, and not just the work he did on the diving board. Lucero noticed that Goodwin was always kind to everyone and never cocky, and he took that to heart.

Waggoner said that showed last spring. Lucero’s last dive, a reverse 2 ½, was the best he had ever put forth. When Bellamy wasn’t quite able to pull off the reverse twist he needed on his final attempt, Lucero realized he had won.

Instead of celebrating though, Waggoner said that Lucero had sympathy for Bellamy.

“He’s always really humble and kind, and he knows it’s anybody’s ballgame on that day,” she said. “Anybody can put a list of 11 dives together.”

While Lucero enjoys seeing the same faces each year and the camaraderie those divers have established, he also knows full well that the competition will ramp up come May and everyone will be looking to take their turn at the top.

“I’m assuming there’s going to be some bigger dives done, which means everyone is going to have to work that much harder to be able to come out ahead,” Waggoner said. “There’s some really good divers out there, and he’s aware how good they are.”

Fossil Ridge claimed its second consecutive 5A team championship last spring, rolling to the title over Regis Jesuit. Danny Kovac (100 backstroke) is the team’s only returning individual champion, while Fairview’s Michael Zarian (200 individual medley and 500 freestyle), Arapahoe’s Griffin Eiber (100 free) and Regis Jesuit’s Elijah Warren (100 breaststroke) also return.

Cheyenne Mountain was the runaway champion in 4A, taking the title with 99 more points than Valor Christian. The Indians were fairly young as well, returning a number of swimmers from their three relay titles and two individual champions in Kyle Leach (200 free) and Brayden Love (100 breaststroke).

Boys swimming preview

Important dates:

  • Regular season begins: March 9

State meets:

  • 5A: May 19-20, VMAC in Thornton
  • 4A: May 19-20, Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

Defending state champions:

Returning all-state swimmers:

  • 5A: Shamzi Alkaff, Sr., Fossil Ridge (200 free relay); Ty Coen, Jr., Regis Jesuit (200 medley relay); Griffin Eiber, Sr., Arapahoe (100 free); Caleb Ives, Jr., Arapahoe (diving); Danny Kovac, Jr., Fossil Ridge (100 backstroke); Octavio Lucero, Jr., Bear Creek (diving); Kris Malinin, Sr., Fossil Ridge (200 free relay); Nathan Rock, Sr., Boulder (400 free relay); Alexander Strepman, Sr., Regis Jesuit (200 medley relay); Elijah Warren, Jr., Regis Jesuit (200 medley relay, 100 breaststroke); Michael Zarian, Sr., Fairview (200 IM, 500 free).
  • 4A: Griffin Ayotte, Soph., Air Academy (200 free relay); Jacob Bielmaier, Sr., Estes Park (diving); Jerry Birnbaum, Sr., Cheyenne Mountain (200 medley relay, 400 free relay); Casey Fellows, Soph., Valor Christian (diving); Liam Gately, Sr., Thompson Valley (500 free); Tristan Gess, Sr., Green Mountain (diving); Gabe Grauvogel, Soph., Cheyenne Mountain (200 medley relay); Kyle Leach, Jr., Cheyenne Mountain (200 free, 400 free relay); Brayden Love, Sr., Cheyenne Mountain (200 medley relay, 100 breaststroke); Westin Stieglitz, Sr., Cheyenne Mountain (400 free relay).