Aleni Stoakes admits she thought her chances to win a conference diving title were slim after faltering on a dive midway through her program Thursday.
But the Lincoln Southwest senior still had hope, and it came in the form of her 11th and final dive — an inward double.
Stoakes, who was in fourth place entering the final round, connected and shot up to the top to capture her first Heartland Athletic Conference girls diving title at Lincoln Southeast High School.
The rating (404C, 2.8) on Stoakes' final dive — it's the highest degree of difficulty in the state — gave her a big points boost. She finished with 330.15 points overall, edging Lincoln Pius X freshman Caroline Phelan, who scored a 329.30. Lincoln North Star senior Jessica Gardner (325.25) was third.
Stoakes faltered on a reverse 1½ in the fifth round before closing with a strong final half of dives.
"I was pretty frustrated, but I just really had to focus on the next ones," Stoakes said. "After I started hitting the next ones, I was like, 'OK, I can still come back.'"
The clincher was the inward double, a dive Stoakes said she inserted into her program last year. She entered the final round confident it could vault her to first.
"That's probably my best dive and it's one of my favorites, too," she said. "I knew if I just do it how I've been doing it the past few weeks that I could still get it."
Stoakes' willingness to take on new dives this year was the reason behind her diving coach's fashion detail on Thursday.
"I have my ears pierced because she did a couple dives, and I was like, 'If you get these dives down, I'll pierce my ears,'" Erik Gustafson said, acknowledging a pair of studded earrings. "I'm wearing these for her."
Stoakes' season-best performance of the year (369.85) came at the Knight Invitational in December. She said she's aiming for a top-five or top-three finish at the state meet, which is two weeks away.
"She's worked hard this year," said Gustafson, a former boys state diving champion. "She's stepped into a leadership position because she is our only senior and she's really owned that well.
"Her inward double was awesome."
Kearney's Michael Huebner, who entered as a heavy favorite, won the HAC boys diving title with a 448.45.
The senior finished with scores of 42.90, 48.10 and 44.40 on his final three dives to claim the title. Huebner's win broke a streak of six conference diving titles won by Lincoln Northeast.
Norfolk's Cayd McCarter (397.25) was second, Lincoln High's Isaiah Winston (385.70) was third and Lincoln North Star's Jacobi Walton (351.90) was fourth.
The HAC swimming preliminaries will start at 2 p.m. Friday at Fremont's Dillon Family Aquatic Center. The swim finals are Saturday.