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Lake Shore’s Wright ascends to top of WNY diving

WRIGHT DIVES ON TO RECORD BOARD — Travis Wright practices his dives in preparation for the state championships on Friday, with his name on the record board at the Lake Shore pool in the backdrop. Photos by Michael Petro.

Travis Wright’s prowess as a diver was first discovered when he was a middle school student, on a day pretty much like any other.

It just so happened that Wright was in the pool and while horsing around with a buddy, caught the eye of physical education teacher Chris Ignatowski, who happened to also be the high school swimming and diving coach. He and classmate Lee Gasken were seeing who can do the best double off the diving board. Ignatowski happened upon a goldmind of talent.

“I saw this and said, ‘You two need to come and see me after school and I need to talk to your parents,’” Ignatowski remembers. “And it’s been history ever since.”

That history includes Wright’s ascension to the best diver in Western New York. Already the school and pool record-holder in the 6-meter dive and having set the school mark in the 11-meter dive, Wright won his first Section VI championship on Feb. 13 at Maryvale.

“I have a gymnastics background so Coach ‘I’ saw me in swimming class in middle school and told me to come up here,” Wright recollected.

“I started breaking records last year. This year, it’s just been adding and adding on to them and I hopefully no one breaks them anytime soon,” he added in jest.

He’ll test whether he can compete among New York’s best at the Feb. 28 state championships in Webster-Schroeder. Wright, who’s won the sectional class championships the past two years, said he hopes to redeem himself from a sub-par performance last season at states.

“Coach always pushes me to do my best,” said Wright, who also credited his parents, Tim and Judy, for their support. “When I hit the board, he’s always there to keep me going.”
Travis Wright works on his dives at a practice a week before the state meet on Friday, Feb. 28.

Ignatowski said at a practice a week before states that Wright’s preparing by polishing his dives for height and position, along with increasing the degree of difficulty. Ignatowski has been impressed by Wright’s continual effort to be better and with technology and being able to video the senior’s dives, it’s helped in the process of making strides.

“Travis is one who goes for detail, which makes him one of the best divers in the state,” Ignatowski said. “He doesn’t just want to throw a dive, he wants to give it his best. He dove a 534 at sectionals and we look at the videos and there’s till stuff he wants to do better. There’s no resting with what he’s done. Even to this point, he’s till trying new dives.”

For Wright, diving signifies fun and an opportunity to meet and make new friends, but he’s also quite the competitor. At sectionals, Wright went up against his friend and rival Ryan Monteleone of Lew-Port, who won the title the year prior. Wright had missed the competition due to a school trip to Europe. Wright made up for lost time, recording a 534 at sectionals, which broke Maryvale’s pool record.

“It was a big accomplishment,” Wright said. “I had Ryan to go up against. He won the meet the year before so I wanted to win this one. It was close. He didn’t make it easy on me, but my dives were on point.”

Wright’s strength on the board has been twisters. He said it’s what comes easy for him. Ignatowski noted that Wright’s twisters are always tight and on the mark, and that the senior has a good sense of where he is in relation to the water during those dives.

In order to hone his skills, Wright swims club two days a week with Wings at the University at Buffalo and that work on the side continues over the summer so that he’s not just diving three months a year. It’s become an essential part of his regimen since freshman year.

Ignatowski said Wright and Gasken have given Lake Shore the best one-two punch in Western New York for the past two to three years. As for Gasken, though, he’s pursued other interests, missing some meets to ride BMX professionally in Florida.

But that didn’t stop Gasken from being by his friends side Friday as Wright practiced for next week’s state meet. Gasken is ranked 10th in the state himself but didn’t have enough dives to qualify for the postseason.

“What’s been evolving has been Travis, who would go to Wings and come back and teach us what he learned, “ Gasken said. “I mean, Travis would sometimes coach, with Coach having so many other swimmers to worry about. Travis is always helping someone else. He would learn the new dive and be able to tell us what were doing wrong in our approach and what we can fix. I think that’s helped out a lot.”
Lake Shore swimming and diving coach Chris Ignatowski looks over Travis Wright\'s dives with the senior using an IPad.

Thanks to the likes of Gasken and Wright and last year’s graduate Tyler Wojda, Lake Shore is steadily becoming a diving power. And that should not end with the departure of the two seniors.

“It’s the kids and the time they spend at it,” Ignatowski said. “I don’t force them here; they do it because they want to. They work on each others’s diving. It’s a diving community now. It’s not an individual event for these guys; it’s about, ‘Hey. let’s make each other better.’”

Two freshman, Matt Kowalsi and Mike Teranno, joined the team and with the help of Wright, went from five to 11 dives ion their repertoire and qualified for the ECIC Championships. Kowalsi also qualified for the sectional class meet.

“Now, we’re trying to build up the program again,” said Wright, who hopes to dive in college but is still undecided where. “Mike and Matt are learning and getting the experience. I’m trying to teach them so that they know how to do some stuff when I leave next year.”

Even with the bright future ahead, Ignatowski can’t help but be saddened about losing the two divers he found six years ago. “These guys are leaders on the team; I don’t know what I’m going to do without them,” he said.
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