Quinn Henninger remembers the first time he climbed to the top of a 10-meter platform and jumped off.
He was 9 years old and it was a big, big step up from the country club springboard diving where he got his start.
Yet Henninger overcame his nerves and took the 33-foot plunge into the diving well at the Cadet Natatorium at the Air Force Academy and he hasn’t looked back since. Now 14, Henninger is a freshman at Regis Jesuit who shows signs that he’s ready to take the mantle as Colorado’s next great prep diver.
“It’s like your heart’s beating so fast and you’re shaking, but once you do it, it’s the best feeling ever,” Henninger said of his first platform dive.
“I didn’t really think of what could go wrong back then, it was just like ‘Oh yeah, let’s do this!” I loved it…I would say any time you are really scared of something new and then accomplish it, it’s the best thing.”
While platform diving appears to be the way Henninger might meet some of his future goals — such as college diving and international competition, including the Olympics — he’s plenty good on the 1-meter springboard.
Henninger announced his arrival on the prep scene at the Dick Rush Coaches Invitational March 17 at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center, when he stepped up with all eyes on him and nailed the final dive of the meet to leapfrog Lewis-Palmer’s Aric Althouse to the championship with 531.60 points.
Two-time defending state champion Octavio Lucero of Bear Creek wasn’t in the competition, but it did have two top-five finishers.
It was the type of performance that opened a lot of eyes, including those of Regis Jesuit dive coach Jake Carloni.
“Quinn was the last diver to go and needed 52-54 points on his last dive; it’s not super hard, but it’s one of those moments where you could slip up, get fives and lose the meet,” Carloni said.
“Instead, he got 8.5s and 9s and won it. He definitely thrives under pressure, which is rare in this sport.”
Henninger assumed — and embraced — a certain amount of pressure when he came into high school.
He joined a Regis Jesuit program that is just a couple of seasons removed from having the most accomplished boys diver in Colorado prep history in Kyle Goodwin.
Goodwin — a 2016 grad who is now at the University of Missouri — is the only Colorado male diver to win four Class 5A state championships and earned All-American status in all four seasons as well. Goodwin also still holds the state record of 611.85 points in an 11-dive meet.
Henninger got to know Goodwin when both were part of the Mile High Dive Club and the relationship helped set him on the path he is on now.
“I see him as a pretty big role model since he won four state championships in Colorado,” Henninger said of Goodwin. “When I first started, I just watched him do all the new stuff I’d never seen before.
“It was just really cool being young and seeing that and thinking ‘I want to do that.’”
Since he’s been gone in college, Goodwin — who competed in the NCAA men’s diving championship meet in March in both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard — has had to keep an eye on Henninger from afar.
He’s seen a few videos of what Henninger has done and isn’t surprised by his progress given what he observed from him as a young diver.
“He’s always been really excited about diving from a young age,” Goodwin said. “He was always very willing to try the bigger and harder dives. He was always very successful learning them, too. He’s always been able to rip extremely well, too.
“I think that’s what makes him so fun to watch.”
Carloni — a two-time state champion diver in Connecticut in his prep career — believes a state title is definitely a possibility for Henninger this season with all that he’s demonstrated mentally and physically, plus his constant hunger to try dives with higher degrees of difficulty.
“He’s showing strength and technique years beyond where a normal freshman would be,” Carloni said.
Whether or not he wins a state championship this season, Henninger’s arrival comes at the perfect time for head coach Nick Frasersmith’s Regis Jesuit team. Perennial state champions in the past, the Raiders have finished second behind Fossil Ridge for three straight seasons and hope to close the gap.
Between Henninger, junior Evan Brega (12th at the Coaches Invite) and junior Evan Mullen, a returning state qualifier, Regis Jesuit could find some important points come the state meet.
Frasersmith found himself taking time to watch Goodwin in the past during meets and now considers Henninger must-watch as well.
“Quinn is so clean and so crisp when he dives, it’s a lot of fun to watch,” Frasersmith said. “He’s got a challenge if he wants to be a state champion as a freshman. In the back of your mind, you think it would be amazing if he could follow in Kyle’s footsteps. He has the ability to do that and he’s focused.”
Henninger already has his sites set on the May 18-19 5A state meet at VMAC, which has become his favorite venue for springboard.
“I like setting small goals, then building my way to what I want to do next,” he said. “I definitely want to do well at state and that’s next.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports
CLASS 5A 1-METER DIVING STANDINGS (through April 5, 2018)
As compiled by PrepSwimCo.com (5A SQT 320 points w/12.6 DD)
1. QUINN HENNINGER (REGIS JESUIT), 531.60 points; 2. A. Althouse (Lewis-Palmer), 516.95; 3. J. Ryan (Denver South), 515.90; 4. C. Ives (Arapahoe), 504.10; 5. C. Chaplin (Highlands Ranch), 482.30; Other Aurora divers in top 20 — 6. Isaiah Cheeks (Hinkley), 469.15; 7. Tim Domashevich (Smoky Hill), 461.70; 9. Byron Mayo (Hinkley), 420.05; 11. Seth Wells (Smoky Hill), 372.05; 17. Evan Brega (Regis Jesuit), 318.45; 18. Noah Bishop (Grandview), 317.35