A Special ‘Gift’
CCAA Divers, Coach Work To Achieve Meaningful Results
Last week at the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association girls swimming and diving championships, the top three spots in the Division 1 1-meter diving competition were awarded to Fredonia’s Elizabeth Pucci-Schaefer, Jamestown’s Rheese Maggio and Fredonia’s Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer.
How impressive was the local trio of student-athletes on the board?
Well, Elizabeth Pucci-Schaefer, who is only an eighth grader, set a new pool standard at Olean Middle School with an 11-dive score of 495 points.
Maggio, a sophomore at Jamestown High School, established a new school record with 437.35 points.
Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer, a senior, was not far behind in third place with 428.70 points.
Thanks to unique circumstances, the trio has had the chance to work together in 2020 under the guidance of accomplished local diving coach John Crawford.
Crawford was the head coach of the swimming and diving programs at SUNY Fredonia from 1980-1988. He has also served as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s programs and has maintained involvement with the programs as a volunteer assistant. With Crawford overseeing SUNY Fredonia’s divers, the Blue Devils had at least one diver earn an All-American certificate for nine straight years, including 2009 NCAA Division III champion Kelly Sponholz.
In addition to his accomplishments at the collegiate level, Crawford has been able to devote time toward helping and instructing high school divers, too.
At Fredonia High School, Crawford has become an integral part of the diving program where he has worked with both Elizabeth and Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer.
“They’ve given me a gift,” Crawford said when asked about Elizabeth and Alexandra Pucci-Schaefer. “My wife passed away (recently) and just to go to the pool, work with young people and watch them grow, they’ve given me a huge gift. … In the case of Elizabeth, she went to states last year as a seventh-grader. … There is a phrase that says, ‘Be brilliant in the basics.’ And it took Elizabeth a while to realize that she had to be brilliant in the basics in order to score very well. Obviously, this year, she’s added new dives … and she’s grown so much.”
Regarding Alexandra, Crawford was quick to compliment her leadership.
“She improved tremendously this year,” Crawford stressed. “She improved her performance by (a substantial amount) of points. … She challenged herself to execute new dives. … In addition to that, she was kind of, if you want to say, the captain of the practices. She made sure everybody did the whole practice and did it (at a high level). … What she did (at practices) affected everybody in a positive manner.”
This season, due in part to there not being a true diving coach at Jamestown High School, Maggio was afforded the opportunity to travel to Fredonia several times a week for practices as well. Her natural ability and work ethic has allowed her to thrive.
“Truthfully, it was kind of a blessing for me because I got to work with her more than I’ve ever worked with her in the past,” Crawford explained. “She is very talented … and she is going to break more records. She is going to reset the (Jamestown High School 11-dive) record in my mind over the next two years. She is only a sophomore. … Even with an abbreviated year and working with her two or three times a week, she was less than (several points) away from qualifying for the state high school championships. And I know they are not going to have any this year, but that gives you an idea of how close she is.”
Having to travel to Fredonia several times a week to practice could have easily been a major roadblock for anyone, but Maggio’s positive attitude has certainly paid dividends.
“Coming into the season, I wasn’t really expecting to do a whole lot because the season was so short,” Maggio said. “Setting the new record was great.”
Maggio added: “When the swim coaches at (Jamestown High School) and the athletic director set that up and I got to go to Fredonia, it was just a really big thing (for me). Because having other divers around the same level as me (it helped me) challenge myself. It’s nice having someone be there and challenge you.”
When it comes down to it, the competition during practices throughout the shortened season benefitted each local diver immensely.
“The fact that Rheese came into that pool and added competition every day, it was very friendly competition,” Crawford said, “but they pushed each other.”
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Southwestern sophomore Ashlynn Swan, who has worked with Crawford in the past, also enjoyed a record-breaking performance at the CCAA Championships.
Her 11-dive score of 395.55 established a new top mark at Southwestern Central School and came as no surprise to head coach Dan Thomas.
“I told her at the beginning of the season that there’s no reason she shouldn’t be on our record board,” Thomas said. “… She’s worked hard, and she decided to challenge herself a little bit at the end of the season and show more degree of difficulty and it paid off.”