Out of the shadows: Puglisi develops into one of state’s top diversWoodbury senior Lauren Puglisi is one of the state’s top divers, and next year she’ll attend the University of Wyoming on a scholarship. However, her career almost ended as soon as it started.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Woodbury senior Lauren Puglisi is one of the state’s top divers, and next year she’ll attend the University of Wyoming on a scholarship. However, her career almost ended as soon as it started.
While in middle school, Puglisi wanted to quit during her first season at Bounce Diving Club.
“I didn’t like it,” said Puglisi, nicknamed “Red” on account of her long bright-red hair. “I wanted to quit halfway through the session. My parents said I should stick with it and I could quit at the end of the session if I wanted to. But, at the end, I decided to stay.”
In that first year, Puglisi said she’d ask her parents, Melissa and Frank, if she could skip practice. Once she even faked a stomach ache. Puglisi said the turning point came when her coaches sat her down and asked her to decide if she wanted to “be good” or to “go down to the lower level.”
“I decided then that I would stick with it,” she said.
That may have been one of the best decisions of Puglisi’s young life.
Last fall, Puglisi earned All-State honors by taking eighth place at the Minnesota State High School League state meet. She followed that up by winning AAU All-American honors in a national meet this past summer for her club team in California. Now, this season, she is ranked among the top five divers in the state and will be diving Division I for the Wyoming Cowgirls next fall.
“Every year she has gotten better and better. The is the first year she’s looked like the real deal,” longtime Woodbury diving coach Rick Light said. “It’s pretty hard to get into any Division I school. There’s only so many spots at these schools. It’s quite the honor and quite the opportunity.”
Puglisi won every meet she competed in this fall. Most recently, Puglisi earned gold at the Section 3AA Championship meet with a score of 370.05 – 45 points ahead of the second-place finisher.
“She still has the potential to get a lot better,” Light said. “It’s just in the last couple years where she’s matured enough and gotten the strength to really press the diving board. She’s been very small and light and it’s hard to store the energy in the diving board when you’re that small.”
Light began coaching diving at Woodbury High School in 1989 under Jerry Simpson. During that time, he’s mentored a number of excellent divers, including Heidi Lundervold, Holly Johannsen, and most recently, Erin Kohlbeck and Emily Bonfig.
Kohlbeck, a 2011 Woodbury graduate, earned All-State honors three straight years for the Royals and is currently diving Div. I for Boise State. Bonfig, who is currently a freshman diver at Harvard, earned All-State honors for a fourth time at last fall’s state meet.
“(Puglisi) was in the shadow of all these great divers these last few years,” Light said. “I kept telling her that her day will come. This has been her year. She’s really stepped up this year and performed.”
Next year, with Puglisi at Wyoming, Woodbury High School will have three alums diving for Div. I college programs. Puglisi and the Cowgirls will even go head-to-head against Kohlbeck and Boise State, as the teams are in the same conference.
Light said he’s happy to see the Woodbury diving program have the success it’s having.
“It’s rewarding,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the fact the girls have practiced and competed at such a high level. When new girls come in they think that’s the norm. That’s what they see and that’s what they set as their goals.”
Light said the tradition of excellence builds on itself. Puglisi is a product of that.
“After being in the shadow of other girls, it’s real easy for them to step up once they get the opportunity,” he said. “They’re so used to competing against these great divers on their own team, so they can compete with the rest of the state.”
Puglisi agrees with her coach.
“We all push each other to be the best that we can,” she said. “It wasn’t a shock that those girls went Division I. I would say that it definitely pushed me to be able to compete against my former teammates. It pushed me to be better. I really appreciate that. It helped me a lot.”
Between competing for Woodbury and for Bounce Diving Club, Puglisi dives 12 months out of the year. In high school, divers are restricted to the 1-meter springboard. However, in club and in college, divers compete on three different events: the tower, the 3-meter springboard and the 1-meter springboard.
“She’s a very good springboard diver, but she’s even better on the tower,” Light said. “The higher Red gets the better she gets.”
Puglisi will make her college choice official on Nov. 14 when she signs her National Letter of Intent to dive for Wyoming. She said she is hoping to major in biology or pre-med and wants to get into the medical field.
After the high school season is over, she will go right into diving for Bounce right up until next fall.
This week will be memorable for Puglisi. In addition to signing her NLI, she will take part in her final high school competition this week at the state meet, held Nov. 15 – 17 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.
“She has a very real chance at winning the state championship this year,” Light said. “I’ve seen her dive better than any of the other divers I’ve had the last few years – at times. Diving is her life out of school. She’s a very good student, too. But diving is her passion.”