PRINCETON: Kalibat again best in state

Princeton resident earns diving championship

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Middle children often display the opposite characteristics of their siblings.
   Such is the case for Natalie Kalibat, who gave up following in her family’s swim tradition to focus on diving.
   ”I’m the outcast,” laughed the Lewis School senior, whose older sister Kristiana swims at Wagner College and younger brother Peter swims for the Princeton High School boys team. Her parents both rise early every morning to swim as well.
   After winning her second straight New Jersey state diving championship Tuesday, capturing three Eastern Interscholastic Championships, and earning a full scholarship to the University of Southern California to dive, it’s safe to say that Natalie found her calling.
   Said Kalibat: “I think just when I first joined the Blue Dolphin program at The College of New Jersey, the way my coach pushed me and throughout the years going to high level meets and getting introduced to other high level divers from across the country, that’s when I thought, this is it. I moved to the right sport. I moved from one side of the pool to the other.”
   Kalibat figured it out pretty early what direction to move her aquatics career. She did not have a gymnastics background, but she seemed better suited for diving than anyone else in her family.
   ”When I was younger, I have pictures to show, I was so flexible,” Natalie said. “I’d do splits in every direction. I was so flexible from mom’s side. My sister can’t even touch her toes. When I was swimming for my club team for Eastern Express, I would watch the divers. I said, that is so impressive. It fascinated me. Swimming laps got really boring for me. It just wasn’t for me.”
   In sixth grade, Kalibat switched her focus to diving, and found her future. She was beating girls older than her from the beginning, and seemed to have the perfect make-up for the sport even without the gymnastics background of a lot of accomplished divers.
   ”I actually danced,” Kalibat said. “I still dance at my high school three times a week for about an hour and a half to two hours. It’s not really intense, but it’s perfect cross training. It’s a lot of core work and strength training. I think that’s really helped me with diving.”
   Kalibat closed her high school career in grand fashion when she repeated as state champion by posting the seventh best score in meet history. Her career-best 483.80 topped runner-up Madison Kramer of Holy Cross handily. West Windsor-Plainsboro South’s Alice Eltvedt was third with 405.85. Laura Carandang of WW-P South was seventh and Montgomery High’s Emily Burke-Smith was eighth in the state. Maria Abiad of WW-P South also finished in the top 15 at 13th.
   ”I always like being humble, but I really wanted to win,” Kalibat said. “I knew I had a good chance of winning, but I had to be on my game.”
   At the boys state meet Wednesday at TCNJ, WW-P South’s Colin Hall finished second. The Pirates senior scored 428.50 to trail only Cherry Hill East’s Ethan O’Neill’s 436.40. Collin McManans of Montgomery was 15th and fellow Cougar Mark Malanka was 16th to cap this year’s high school diving season.
   ”Last year, it was my first time competing in the New Jersey state meet,” Kalibat said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was really excited.
   ”This year, it’s my home pool. It was a great feeling. When I walked into that pool, I said it’s my meet and I want to destroy it. I have my home pool and I was really fired up.”
   Kalibat was motivated by the chance to win a title. She had just missed her fourth straight Easterns title on Saturday when she lost to Juliana Melchionda of Braintree, Mass., despite scoring 462.30.
   ”It was a mix of a lot of things,” Kalibat said. “I dove very well, I got a lot of high, high scores on my dives, but Juliana had a lot more degree of difficulty on me. I’d say the 20 points she beat me on were the degree of difficulty points. She dove well and deserved to win. I won three years in a row.”
   Had she won her fourth straight title, Kalibat may have had a different approach to the state championship meet.
   ”I’d probably be a little more relaxed, like just dive well and let’s end it,” she said. “This year, it was like I need to win it.
   ”My goal was to beat my Eastern scores for states. I did it. I was really happy. I dove really well. I had a lot of energy and I dove really well. It showed in the takeoffs and in the finishes.”
   The finish to her New Jersey scholastic career was encouraging as Kalibat begins to shift gears in her training. She has been focusing on springboard for two months, and still has the Region 1 Championships to go in two weeks, but will begin gearing up for the Olympic Trials in June. She has qualified for the 10-meter synchronized event with her partner, Ashley Buchter, when they finished seventh at the USA Diving Winter Nationals in December.
   ”She’s from Pennsylvania,” Kalibat said. “We’d get up at 4:45 and drive to Maryland to practice with her. We’d work once a week in Maryland.
   ”It’s really awesome to go (to Trials). I’m really excited. It’ll be a great experience.”
   Kalibat continues to grow as a diver. She’s getting better at the dives she’s had in her repertoire, and she’s adding new ones while developing into a better competitor.
   ”Motivation wise, I definitely have progressed,” Kalibat said. “I’ve been working a lot on platform. I made Olympic Trials for synchro, so I had to learn a big dive for that.”
   Kalibat sees bigger things ahead. She will head to USC to dive for famed coach Hongping Li after wrapping up her scholastic career with her second state crown.
   ”It is an honor,” Kalibat said. “It’s a really amazing title to have, being the New Jersey state champion. I keep motivating myself to do better things. When I go to USC, I’m excited to have a new coach and a new start and make it to the top with Hongping. I’m really excited.”