HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aleia Monden of St. Andrew's Priory wants to break her own 1-meter diving record at the state meet later this month.
Aleia Monden didn't excel until she began to believe
IT TOOK ONE moment of something unfamiliar for it all to come together for senior Aleia Monden of St. Andrew's Priory.
This past summer at a junior national qualifying meet, Monden stumbled through the 1-meter diving portion of the event, the event she has won for three straight years on the local prep scene.
But on the 10-meter platform, an event that isn't held in Hawaii and one for which she doesn't often train, Monden recovered her composure and discovered all that she needed to continue her success. She placed 11th at the zone meet in Maryland and qualified for junior nationals for the first time.
In 2003, she was one place away from qualifying for nationals on the platform and three points away from making it in the 1-meter.
"I totally flipped out," Monden said of her 1-meter dive routine at zones. "I was just really scared and the competition was really high. When I made it to nationals on the platform, I listened to music and tried something different. I tried to take myself out of the competition and not so much concentrate on it.
"I now know what I need to do to do well."
Monden finds success frequently at the small, all-girls school in downtown Honolulu. Diving was never unfamiliar to her, doing it since she was a four-year-old watching the Mililani High School team practice at the local YMCA.
Her mother, Nancy, later enrolled her in gymnastics to help with diving and sent her to diving camps on the mainland where Nancy Monden was told her daughter had a lot of potential.
All Aleia Monden needed to jump-start her prep success was a shot of confidence and, ironically, another so-so day on the diving board.
At the state championships her freshman year, Monden figured Kamehameha's Ronnie Oda would run away with the title. Monden had finished a distant second to Oda at the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Championships.
"On the first day, I didn't have a great meet so I said, 'OK, we have another day,' " recalled Monden, who was in third place and almost 22 points behind Oda after the competition's first day. "So I worked it out and I had my harder dives the next day and I pushed through."
Monden more than closed the gap to win the event, finishing 379.80 points to Oda's 377.35.
"We worked really, really hard between ILH and states," Monden said. "We were focusing a lot on repetition and meet situation and that helped a lot."
"That freshman year was proving to herself that she actually is that good," coach Jeff Stabile said. "Since then, she has more confidence, ability and been training more regularly, more seriously and more focused."
MONDEN BROKE the 21-year-old state record her sophomore year and broke her own record last year with a score of 475.20. With virtually no competition, Monden could win states later this month with a set of easy dives. But Monden, a two time high school All-American, and her coach are working on harder dives for the state meet and national competitions later this year.
She hopes to do a reverse one-and-a-half somersault with a one-and-a-half twist and a front two-and-a-half pike while breaking 500 at states scheduled for Feb. 24-25 at Kamehameha-Hawaii.
"We've been working on new dives and I actually failed a dive one time this year," Monden said. "It's really about the experience. It's not about competing with the people more, but competing against myself. Just clean up everything, get a better sense of where I am and improve my dives."
Last summer, Monden took the ultimate road trip, testing her ability and confidence in three major meets within a three-week span along the East Coast. Competing against divers who were college bound and had national diving experience, Monden's nerves and inexperience showed early.
"She was a little bit tense and she felt she didn't belong at that level even though she had the skills," Stabile said. "All the coaches and competitors were asking her, 'How many nationals have you been to?' And she said she never made it to one yet. In the meet, she was flopping all over the place and showing why she never made one yet."
After her shaky start on the 1-meter at the zone qualifying meet for junior nationals in Maryland, Monden turned it around on the 10-meter platform. She qualified for junior nationals on the platform, a feat her coach calls a turning point in Monden's diving career.
"She finally put it together on the platform and dived consistently and made it," Stabile said. "That's when it started to unleash the confidence."
THAT CONFIDENCE CARRIED over to the AAU Diving National Championships in Florida. Monden led after the first day of the meet and won with 349.75 points, 21 points ahead of the next competitor. Not only did she win it on her coach's birthday, she beat out divers who qualified for the 1-meter at junior nationals.
"I was very surprised that she took it," added Nancy, who accompanied her on the trip. "I was taping it and thought she's going to place wherever. There were some girls who were national quality."
Her performances on the mainland opened the eyes of many collegiate coaches. She already has Division I scholarship offers, been accepted to one of the schools she wants to dive for, and makes her first recruiting trip this spring.
All it took to get this far was to believe in herself.
"Jeff tells me to take my brain out of it," Monden said. "If you think about a dive too much, you can't go and do it. I just look at a spot on the board and when I'm in the middle of the dive, I just do what I need to do.
"In the beginning, she could not stand up on a dive," Stabile said. "She was out in the middle of the pool and was very low. She had some form, had the flexibility to be really good and was strong. But she didn't have a lot of solid mechanics."
"She's really coming into her own as a competitor. Now we're looking on to college and getting national-level experience."