Gavolas fights through illness, returns for home finale

When the Youngstown State University Diving Invitational concluded on Sunday, it marked the end of the regular season for swimmers and divers and reflected the tough road they encountered. 

Diving coach Nick Gavolas missed the entire month of December because he spent 13 days at Northside Medical Center with a rare case of pneumonia. 

“Coming back, I wasn’t at full strength,” Gavolas said. “I get tired very easily, so practices, which normally run two to three hours, have been cut down to a couple of hours.”

When Gavolas returned, junior diver Casey Hill said it was rough trying to get back into a rhythm. 

“It was tough for us because we didn’t really have anybody to push us for a couple of weeks, so we kind of were stuck doing the same things over and over again without anybody truly correcting us,” Hill said. 

Swimming coach Matt Anderson said it was an interesting time.

Gavolas’ absence was during Christmas break. Therefore, many swimmers did not see how much time he missed, Anderson said. 

“It certainly made an impact on the divers because they obviously see him every day,” Anderson said. “As a coaching staff, there was some challenges along the way, and not just out of concern for his health, but also making sure the program moves forward.”

Gavolas carried an oxygen tank on his shoulder during Sunday’s event, and said the event could have gone better. 

“We were a little tired, and I think it showed,” Gavolas said. 

Hill was one of the tired divers. 

“I think it’s because I’m so exhausted from training all season,” Hill said. “I still consider this season a success. Today was just a bit off, and everybody has an off-day.”

While the divers concluded the regular season on Sunday, the swimmers ended on Friday in Beeghly Center against the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Seniors Nishani Cicilson, Audy Grubbs, Kristin Walker and Katie Wolf were honored beforehand. Anderson said it was good for the underclassmen to see. 

“For the rest of the team, it’s important to recognize how much work those seniors have put in and what a difference they made to the program so that they can grow and see what it takes to become successful,” he said.

Anderson added that it made for a good meet. Freshman Ashley Dow broke two pool records, earning first place in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard backstroke with times of 58.61 seconds, and 2 minutes, 6.65 seconds, respectively. 

Anderson said it is good to see Dow succeed as a freshman, ready to compete at the Horizon League Championship, which begins Feb. 22 in Milwaukee. 

“For the most part, she’s the type of person that gets excited about a meet, but doesn’t crumble under the pressure,” Anderson said. “She’s going to be a contender, and we’re excited to see where that ends up.”

Hill finished first in the one- and three-meter dives, with scores of 260.84 and 262.35, respectively, collecting wins 17 and 18 this season. 

Gavolas added that Friday was special because the seniors were honored. 

“The good thing about the diving part is we’re all underclassmen, so we’re still building,” he said. 

Already the diving leader, Hill said she is not looking forward to next year because it will be her last. She even has a tattoo on her lower right ankle of the USA Diving logo because she loves the sport. 

“I am a little nervous in the fact that it is my senior year, and I don’t want to leave, but it’s kind of bittersweet,” she said. 

The teams are focused on the HL Championship. Gavolas said he expects his team to be competitive. 

“I expect to place at least three in the top 10, hopefully all four, but we’ll find out then,” Gavolas said. “Casey won the three-meter last year, and she’s very capable of winning it again this year.”

Hill said the teams are better prepared this year. 

“We brought in a lot of good swimmers, and, as far as divers, we’re more comfortable going in and knowing what we’re doing,” Hill said. 

Anderson said he also expects a good showing, and added that he gives the regular season a B+ grade. 

“I was hoping we would see a couple of school records down by this time, and that’s the only reason why I don’t give it the true A,” Anderson said. 

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