Lucy Hugan in an earlier meet this season. Photo by Lynn Trautmann/LTPhoto Evanston

Evanston sophomore diver Lucy Hogan did not just come back from a serious back problem that sidelined her for more than four months this past summer.

She came back on Nov. 19 on the final dive of the season and earned her second straight second place medal at the Illinois High School Association state finals at Evanston’s Burton Aquatic Center.

In danger of slipping down to fourth place in a hotly-contested state finals, Lucy amassed 50.6 points on her last dive of the finals — a reverse one and one-half somersault with a half-twist – and clinched the runnerup spot behind New Trier rival (and club teammate) Jessie Creed.

Her final 11-dive point total of 449.40 trailed only Jessie’s 462.55 after two days of competition. Both competitors passed up Sterling’s Kallie Zuidema, who led after 8 dives the day before but couldn’t match the two sophomores over the final three dives on Nov. 19.

The little ETHS sophomore did not just settle for second place – she won it.

“After the first dive today I said, ‘OK, you got the nerves out, now just get up and dive,’” said Evanston coach Aaron Melnick. “I was content with where she scored on that second dive. That last dive is her favorite dive, but this year she hasn’t produced the scores she’s capable of in that dive. She’s also never been under the extreme pressure she was under today at the last dive of the state finals.

“That dive couldn’t have come at a better time and I’m so proud of Lucy. She actually got 8s that counted and that was a great way to finish.”

“It was very definitely a good comeback for me against a really tough field, especially after I slipped coming out of my tuck on the first dive today,” Lucy said. “Now I’m at the same point I was last year, and this is reassuring to know that. I just tried to finish strong and I’m happy that I could come back and contribute to my team this year.

“This whole season that last dive hasn’t been good for me, and to hit it like I did at the end is really satisfying.”

Lucy’s grit as a competitor was reaffirmed over the two-day test. She climbed three spots in the individual standings during the last three dives on Nov. 18, and she overcame both conservative judging by the newly-installed Illinois High School Association panel of judges and that early slipup the next day.

As to the back injury? Lucy refused to use that as an excuse this fall when a lesser competitor might have, well, backed off from any expectations of a repeat trip to State. She took a conservative approach to her comeback, and insisted she was pain-free at the end of at the three-month high school campaign although not 100% as far as her strength was concerned.

“It was a great three months for me,” Lucy said. “I think the nerves got to me a little bit yesterday, but I also think I was under-scored on those first couple of dives. You can’t anticipate what the judging will be like, but I think everybody was under-scored this weekend, not just me. I think the [high school] coaches know more about it than these judges.”

Lucy was referring to the fact that this is the first year the IHSA decided not to use a panel of high school coaches at the state finals. High school coaches do serve on the judging panels during the regular season and sectional qualifying.

“What I think was wrong with the judging this weekend is that there was not enough separation [on scoring] between the good divers and the average divers,” Coach Melnick pointed out. “They were afraid to throw up upper level scores for the good divers when they did hit them. We would have had a 500-point diver [and a likely State record] with a panel of high school coaches. We know how to judge fairly, and without question both Jessie and Lucy are 500-point divers.

“I know Lucy was concerned about the time she had to take off, and even though it was a severe injury, I think the comeback was more mental than physical for her. I think the outcome this year was more satisfying that last year just because of what she had to go through to get here. She had no room for error there at the end and she really earned that medal.”