For about a week and a half, Jennifer Sailor and other divers on the Truman girls swimming and diving team were without a coach.
It was a tragic incident that caused that to happen.
Diving coach Corissa Leutzinger was severely injured during a car accident on Nov. 14 and was assumed dead by the Missouri Department of Transportation. But she managed to survive with two broken legs, two broken arms, a fractured C2 vertebrae and a broken pelvis. She also had to have her spleen removed.
It was devastating news for the Truman team, including Sailor, who not only considered Leutzinger her coach, but her friend.
“It was definitely hard on all of us,” Sailor said. “After practice you’ll usually say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Then you expect her show up and everything to be normal. Then she didn’t show up one day and everyone wondered what happened. Then we found out the next day what happened. It was a hard experience.
“After that, (fellow diver) Victoria (Xayaphet) and I told each other what to fix in practice. We would watch videos online of other people’s dives and figure out, ‘OK. How do we make our dives look like that?’ We just had to push through.”
A few days after that accident, after it was approved by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, two-time state qualifier and Truman grad Sarah Mancini took over as the diving coach and took Sailor under her wing. Then Wednesday two improbable moments happened at the same time.
Sailor qualified for state with a 6-dive score of 250.50 at the Raytown/Raytown South meet at Raytown Community Pool. And just moments before the junior accomplished that feat, she was informed Leutzinger was cleared to leave the rehab facility and continue her recovery from her injuries from home. Right after she found out that she qualified for state, Sailor celebrated with her parents and then sent a text to Leutzinger.
“I heard earlier that day that she got to go home,” Sailor said. “I was already excited. I was going to already text her that night and tell her congrats. Right after I heard that I made it to state I texted her in all caps, ‘I MADE IT TO STATE!’ THIS IS AWESOME! She texted me within an hour and said, ‘I am so proud of you. Congratulations! I made it home today.’ Then we talked about that.”
Sailor surprised herself when she qualified for state, as she was expecting to qualify during the 11-dive event during the Kansas City Classic this weekend. But she met her goal earlier than expected, and meeting it on the same day that Leutzinger was cleared to go home made it that much more special.
“We weren’t expecting me to qualify … it’s much harder to qualify in a six-dive than an 11-dive (event),” said Sailor, who had to score 240.00 or better to automatically qualify for state. “We weren’t look forward to going to state, we were just looking forward to competing in the meet. I knew things were going to go well when I got a high score on my first dive. My coach came up to me after my dives and said, ‘It’s going to be a close one.’
“My parents did their own scoring before we got the results back. And they said I got to 250 and we got so excited. My parents said, ‘Wait, to till we get the results back!’ Then when we got the card back saying I qualified for state, we had a big ol’ happy dance.”
Added Mancini: “She does better in 11-dive meets, so I thought it would be easier for her to qualify in the 11 dive. She was just on her game (Wednesday). Every dive she did was awesome. I was a little surprised but in the back of my mind, I knew she would qualify this season.”
The Truman junior had been cheerleading for the Kansas City Athletic Cheer team for the past 10 years and wanted to try out for diving her sophomore year with her friend, Xayaphet. They both enjoyed it and decided to continue competing for the team.
“Victoria told me that she was trying out for the diving team and said, ‘You’re a cheerleader, too, you should try out.’ We started it sophomore year as the only two divers for the district.”
Sailor gradually improved and took an extra step forward under Mancini. She learned two new dives under her new coach and her expectations have increased as of late.
“She really transformed our dives,” Sailor said. “We used to look at fives as a good score. Now, I am seeing sixes and sevens as good scores.”
And Mancini has taken notice of Sailor’s improvement since last season.
“Her biggest improvement is her confidence,” said Mancini, who also coaches for the Tsunami Swim Club of Kansas City, which trains at Henley Aquatic Center like Truman. “Diving is a mental sport. You can have all these cool tricks, but if your head is not in it, you won’t do well.
“She’s learned some new dives as well, and her form has gotten better.”
While diving under the tutelage of Mancini, Sailor visited Leutzinger a handful of times to see how her mentor was doing and to give her updates on how she was doing with the diving team.
The two went over footage of Sailor’s dives and Leutzinger, even while injured, passed on her knowledge on how the junior could improve her dives.
“She was my coach through videos,” Sailor said, “and she would help me. I wanted to make it to state for her and Sarah. They both pushed us so much. I would show her some of my old flopping videos, and she would laugh. It felt more like a friend relationship than a coach-athlete relationship. I could talk to her about pretty much anything.”
And it all paid off in the form of a state berth for Sailor, who received her favorite treat from her parents after she had qualified.
“My favorite food is ice cream, so we went out and got some,” Sailor said. “It was really cold and I was in my swimsuit, but it was worth it.”
Sailor also gets to witness swim coach Trevor Tomney do something that she has not yet witnessed.
“Coach Trevor and I made an agreement before the season started that he would dive off the diving board after I made it to state,” Sailor said. “Can’t wait for that.”
The junior has a little over a month to prepare for the state meet and in that time, she hopes to break the school records for the six- and 11-dive events and aims to make the top 10 at state.
Before she takes a stab at that, there’s one other thing that she plans on happening. Something that involves Leutzinger doing what she had been before the car accident.
“We’re already talking about her coming to the pool and her watching me dive one day,” Sailor said. “She’ll probably still be in a wheelchair, but we’ll wheel her in somehow, so she can watch us dive.”