As head coach Leslie Hasselbach Adams launches a unique aquatics program at Clemson this fall - one in which diving in and of itself is counted as a women’s sport - she’s excited to incorporate her first freshman class under a format which has increased her scholarship resources.
The Tigers will kick off their initial season on Saturday against Georgia Tech and College of Charleston in Atlanta.
“I have one senior, three juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen, so it’s a very eclectic group of ladies,” said Adams, whose long-time position as an assistant coach in charge of diving at Clemson was upgraded when the swimming component of the swimming and diving program was ended last season. “We actually have six newcomers, because one of my juniors this year is a walk-on, so she’s also brand-new. Her name is Bailey Warren, and she came in last spring. She was a national champion on the trampoline when she was younger and wanted to give diving a try.
“Trampoline is easily transferable over to the sport of diving, so I’m very excited to be working with her and to see what she can do in a short amount of time. She’s a very hard worker and has caught on really quickly.”
Prior to becoming a diver herself, Adams had a background in gymnastics, and she confirmed how her freshmen class combines more experienced divers with athletes like Warren, who have recently transitioned from other sports that feature resembling and convertible skills.
“Those skills do translate well, and a lot of divers get into diving initially by coming from another sport,” said Adams.
“There are very few divers who have actually only just dove. A lot of divers are former gymnasts or trampolinists that have made an easy transition into the sport.”
Of the five freshmen, two fit that latter category.
“Jessica Resler is a Canadian diver from Regina, Saskatchewan, and she used to be an elite-level gymnast, and transferred over into diving a couple of years ago,” said Adams. “She has some learning to do, but she has a great set of skills, and is a beautiful diver. She’s also been trained in dance, so she’s got that edge to her as far as the graceful part of the sport. Now it’s just a matter of building on her dives.
“I also have Megan Helwagen (Mason, Ohio), who’s another freshman and was also a former trampolinist. She turned to diving about five years ago, or so. She’s five-foot-nine-and-a-half, so she’s very tall for the sport of diving. But she’s amazing, and can spin very fast, and twist very well, and she‘s been a gem to work with.”
Two of the remaining three freshmen have more extensive diving backgrounds due to club experience, and Adams’ goal is to accelerate their development.
“We have a young lady named Katie Barolak (The Woodlands, TX), who’s going to be a great little diver,” said Adams. “She comes from a very outstanding club diving program, and has kind of been in the shadows behind some of her teammates in the past, but now it‘s her turn to shine. She’s in a program here where she’ll continue to thrive and improve with the attention of her teammates and coaches.
“I have another freshman, Tabitha Banks, who’s from Atlanta, GA, and she came from a very large age-group program. So being in this type of environment will be very good for her as far as coaching attention, and she’ll continue to improve.”
The final member of the freshman class has already excelled on a national stage.
“My little spitfire is Juliana Melchionda, who’s from Braintree, MA,” said Adams. “She actually verbally committed to me the summer before her senior year in high school. She knew she was coming here for a very long time, and couldn’t wait to officially become a Tiger.
“She’s shorter than me, which is very cool, because I can actually look down on someone and talk to them, instead of looking up at them. She’s awesome, and this summer she won AAU Nationals on one-meter, and was runner-up on three-meter. So she had a very successful summer, and has waited for this moment to be here for over a year now. She’s ready to go.”