Seamus Harding
Seamus Harding

By Rich Fisher | Correspondent

Notre Dame’s Seamus Harding doesn’t shy away from talking with God before diving competitions.

“I always pray every time before I go to a meet,” said Harding, who belongs to St. Matthias Parish, Somerset, Diocese of Metuchen. “And when I’m doing a new dive I pray.”

The freshman also prays with his chamois (diving towel) near the pool during each meet and credits his faith and lots of practice for his diving abilities.

Abilities that were on full show March 1 when Harding won the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Diving Championship with a meet record score of 591 points. It was the second straight year a ninth-grader won the meet. Harding’s club teammate, Griffin Brooks of Governor Livingston, finished second with 516.40 points after winning it all last year.

“I thought I could win it, but when I saw the results I thought ‘Wow! I actually did this!’” Harding said. “It was an amazing opportunity and experience. My coach told me right after I got my medal that I set the record. I was like, in shock.”

Even more shocking is the dominance with which Seamus won. Each diver has 11 attempts. He took the lead after the second round of dives and stayed in front the rest of the way.

“That’s pretty incredible,” ND coach Elisa Sautter said. “I’ve been at state championships for six years and I’ve never seen anything like that. It was really incredible to watch all his dives and how amazing he did. It looked nearly flawless.”

As he watched his scored get posted, Harding knew he was doing well, but had no idea what kind of rare air he was entering. He was also keeping track of Brooks and calculated the two were scant points from each other most of the way.

“I think I realized I was in the lead in the eighth or ninth round,” he said.

Sautter said that as good as Harding was in states, he didn’t look much different than during the regular season when he won every dual meet and invitational and set records at most of them.

“He really is very consistent with what he does,” the coach said. “There’s some dives you look at when he gets straight nines. It’s just like, you have no words to describe it but ‘Wow!’

“When he gets on the diving board, it’s really amazing to watch him ride the board and get the height, and he’s so graceful. He makes it look effortless, when I myself know how much effort he’s using and know how much it takes to do these dives.”

Seamus began diving for the Cedar Hill Club in Somerset at age 7.

Did he like it right away?

“Yes,” he said. “I did.”

Was he any good at it?

“No,” came the honest reply.

When he first started diving, Harding was put in the Bronze group while others at the club were in the Silver and Gold.

“The better kids would all dive earlier and the not-so-good kids would dive later,” Harding said. “I always went later and I would watch them and was like ‘Wow, I’m like nothing compared to them.”

Things changed at age 9, however, when Rutgers women’s swimming coach Fred Woodruff and his wife, Leslie, became Harding’s coaches for the Lords of the Boards diving club at Rutgers. He has made the club nationals every year since 2011, won Age Group Nationals in 2011 and was second on tower and three meter and third on springboard in 2013. 

Asked how his state title compared to winning a national club championship, Seamus said, “ It was just a different experience. Winning nationals was such a long time ago, I don’t really remember off the top of my head. This one is all over my head, it’s so much bigger.”

Sautter first met Harding at a Notre Dame Open House before he committed to come to the Lawrenceville school. Shortly after, she heard through the diving community he was on his way, and was obviously a happy coach.

“It’s nice to have someone like that,” she said. “It gives the program a boost. We’re a small sport, it’s nice to show the kids what diving can be like and it reminds the community in general what it takes to be an amazing athlete in this sport.”

Harding experimented with other sports as a youth, participating in baseball, soccer, swimming and lacrosse, among others.

“And then I was like ‘Diving, this is the one,’” he said. “The practices and meets I went to, that gave me practice time and gave me the strength and ability to dive at the higher levels I’m at now.”

Harding has put in a ton of work on dry land and off the board. He credits his coaches for teaching him not only skills, but patience.

“That really helped me throughout the (state) meet,” he said. “If you’re not patient you lose control on the dives. You can go over and you’ll go ‘Oh, I thought I went in straight’ and your coaches say ‘Nope, you went flying over.’ You lose control in your flip, your twists, all that kind of stuff.”

Seamus also has improved getting his arms through on his hurdle and getting them over the board to get into his somersault. He has worked hard on improving his rip, which produces little bubbles and no splash upon entering the water.

It all came together to make him the best in the state, but Harding hopes it’s only the beginning. He does not want high school competitions to be his last stop.

“I’m hoping to dive in college,” he said. “And I would like to make it to the Olympics.”