Zuzu Bailey nailed her final dive Friday at the Illinois High School Association girls state swimming and diving meet in Westmont.
But it was a case of too little, too late to keep her season alive.
Bailey (whose real first name is Susannah) bowed out in the preliminaries at the FMC Natatorium and concluded an amazing season in her only year as a diver for Evanston Township High School.
The senior standout will now turn her attention to her favorite sport – gymnastics – after reaching the state finals in a sport she had never competed in before this year. She plans to join the ETHS gymnastics team after previously competing as a club gymnast.
Bailey finished her five-dive list Friday with a score of 155.20 points to climax a meteoric rise in a highly technical specialty like diving. She placed 46th among the 48 entries and fell short of advancing to the semifinals.
She totaled 37.95 points on her last attempt, one of her best dives of the season.
“At least I can feel good about that last dive,” said Bailey, who achieved her “goal” of not finishing last competing against a field of more experienced divers. “I wasn’t feeling too good after my second and third dives.”
The Evanston senior faced adversity all year in the form of injuries in addition to her inexperience in the pool. Friday, she was forced to wait to compete as the No. 48 competitor in a field of 48 that determines turns by luck of the draw.
She admitted that the wait got to her and nerves might have played a role in the fact that she only totaled over 30 points on two of her five attempts.
“I think the waiting probably got to me,” Bailey said. “I was looking at all of the other divers and not focusing on what I should do enough. I psyched myself out, but that’s OK. This was a good experience and I’m happy.”
“She finished out strong,” praised Evanston diving coach Aaron Melnick. “She missed two dives, but she was able to come back and put her toughest dive in. She nailed that last dive. She didn’t want to be last today, and she wasn’t.
“Ultimately, she achieved some remarkable things from start to finish this year. Her first dive wasn’t horrible, but the first dive is the toughest for everyone because of the way the nerves are running. And there’s nothing you can do to prepare for that kind of wait. You can’t practice for it.
“She did her best, and in my mind, she was outstanding this year.”