By ADAM SHINDER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- The dive that kept Amsterdam High School senior Connor Liverio out of the state championships as a junior season ago is still haunting his dreams.
"I had a nightmare the other night. I was sleeping, and I thought about last year," Liverio said. "The dive that kept me out of states was early on in the meet. I messed up on a back dive pike, and I came back from it throughout the meet, but I was just too far behind because I got such low scores on the dive. I actually had a nightmare the other night that the same thing happened to me this year."
Liverio finished the Section II small school championships with 396.75 points, 23.6 points shy of the state qualification standard, and while he finished second in the event -- to teammate Kristian Santos -- it was Santos alone who had the score to reach states.
Now, with the boys swimming and diving season set to begin today at 5 p.m. when the Rams play host to Schenectady at the Lynch Literacy Academy pool, both Liverio and Santos are back for one more season with the hopes of making the trip to Webster Schroeder High School for states in late February a double act -- just like everything else has been during their varsity diving careers.
And those aren't the only expectations for the duo this season.
"We're really excited and I'm hoping -- and maybe this is a lofty goal -- I want first and second in diving in every meet that we go to. I told those two, 'You don't want to see me the day after you don't get first and second,'" AHS swimming and diving coach Nancy Spagnola said with a smile.
Santos established school records for six and 11 dives a season ago -- with Liverio following closely behind in the record book -- and while both acknowledged that while they'll be happy to rack up maximum team points for the Rams during dual meets, those competitions really provide a chance to get some extra practice in for the handful of opportunities they'll have to do their full 11-dive programs and go after the magic number of 420.35 points.
"I'm not really working toward scores during (regular meets), I'm mainly working toward states," Santos said.
"You're very limited on chances to make it to states," Liverio added. "It's kind of like you're crunched for time, almost."
The pair has spent the offseason training relentlessly, attending several diving camps during the summer and practicing regularly at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with coach Maria Coomaraswamy-Falkenstein -- Liverio about three times per week due to his work schedule, while Santos said he tries to go every night of the week, though he had a bit of a delay in his training during the preseason.
"During the offseason, I actually had mono, and I had to take a good three weeks off coming right into the season, so that was a setback," Santos said.
The offseason regime is frenetic, but Connor Liverio's father -- and former AHS head football coach -- Pat Liverio said it's all part of the ride.
"They've had meets that (my wife) Amy's taken them to up in Boston at Harvard, I've taken them to Connecticut," Pat Liverio said. "It is a lot of time, but it's fun."
It's also, Santos said, quite necessary. After making his first trip to states this past March and finishing 19th overall -- just 2.5 points out of a berth in the finals -- he knew things needed to be stepped up a notch for his senior season.
"After seeing the competition that was there, it puts you in place," Santos said. "Coming from being first in your section to going there and seeing the other competition, really put a mindset that I've got to really work toward it."
For both divers, the first chance to qualify for states will come next weekend. With only one or two other chances to do 11 dives in competition before the last chance comes at the sectional championships in early February, the first opportunity is vital and both are looking to quickly stamp their tickets for states.
"The biggest meet of the season, really when you look at it, has to be the first meet," Connor Liverio said. "That's when the judges can feel you out, they get their opinions. If you can show up on the first meet, you're in a pretty good spot."
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