Zombek flips for diving
SF senior wins second WPIAL title
Heard the expression, ‘he’s a self-made man’?
Well, Stephen Zombek is a self-taught diver.
At the behest of neighbors and friends, who saw him performing flips on the trampoline in the back yard, Zombek started diving. “Everybody said I’d be good at it,” explained the South Fayette High School senior.
Zombek isn’t just good. He’s the best. In fact, at the WPIAL Class AA diving championships held last weekend at South Park, Zombek captured his second straight title. He racked up 423.55 points to outdistance Micah Ringer of Beaver, who finished second with a 372.65 score. Zombek’s brother, Evan, grabbed the bronze medal with 345 points.
“I was pretty excited to win the title again,” said Zombek. “But there was a lot of pressure. This year was a little more difficult because the competition had gotten harder and I had to step up my game.”
With his coach Chris Rebholz, who was a standout at Seneca Valley, Zombek mapped out a winning strategy. The pair picked out dives that could catapult Zombek to the top early in the competition. His first five dives included two signature plunges: an inward one-and-one-half pike and a back two-and-one-half with a twist.
“That had a high degree of difficulty and helped me get ahead,” explained Zombek. “After my first five dives, I hit a groove.”
Zombek was so in the zone he “nailed” his last six dives. While he says his go-to dives are his front one-and-one half or front two-and-one half twists, he was particularly pleased with his front two-and-one half somersault.
“I like all my dives,” Zombek said, “but I nailed [the front somersault] compared to the other dives.”
Compared to his other competitions—he finished runner-up as a sophomore before winning his first title as a junior—Zombek said he experienced a relaxed confidence this year. “Experience definitely helped,” he said. “I felt a lot more comfortable and I accomplished a lot more.”
During his career, Zombek has achieved much. This season, he broke the school record with his 11-dive list. He had already set the mark for a six-dive slate.
In addition to diving, Zombek excels at the 50- and 100-yard freestyle swimming distances. Plus, he competes successfully in cross country and track. In fact, Zombek helped the Lions capture the WPIAL Class AA team title last fall in cross country.
“I love running long distance,” explained the four-year letterwinner.
He added that there is a correlation between running and diving. “Actually, I do think the sports go together. You have to have strong legs to do both. Diving, it’s all in the legs.”
For Zombek, diving is also all in the family. In addition to his brother, Evan, his cousin, Nate Petrow, finished 10th for South Fayette in the Class AA competition. Additionally, his younger sister, Madison, also dives.
Both Zombek brothers as well as Trevor Mahoney, who finished fifth overall, are qualified for the PIAA championships set for March 12-14 at Bucknell University.
“The goal is to win a state title,” said Zombek, who finished 14th in 2013. “Last year, I did not do as well as I wanted to but I have a lot more experience.
“My coach, who has been with me every step of the way, had worked with me to improve my technique on every dive and my degree of difficulty is higher.” In addition, Zombek said, “I have a lot more confidence. So I’m shooting for eighth or lower.”
Zombek’s high standing in the district has garnered attention from Division I recruiters. Recently, St. Bonaventure expressed interest in Zombek, who is open to the possibility of diving in college, but recognizes his limitations. “I’m not going to the Olympics and that would be the next step in diving,” he said.
Currently, Zombek plans to run for Slippery Rock University. He hopes to earn a degree in physical therapy.