WPIAL championship meets had not been kind to South Fayette junior Stephen Zombek.
A year ago, Zombek finished second in the boys 1-meter diving event, ceding first place to South Park’s Billy Rountree by the score of 301.60-301.45.
Then, at the Class AA cross country championships this past fall, South Fayette, which had hoped to contend for the WPIAL title, had several runners affected by the brutal racing conditions and finished third.
Zombek finally found success on the season’s biggest stage Friday.
Competing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Pool, Zombek accumulated a score of 353.25 to take first place in the WPIAL 1-meter competition, a satisfying result after two that weren’t so enjoyable.
“In cross country, my team was really good, and we were hoping to take first,” Zombek said. “But something happened, something was in the air that day, and we took third.
So coming into this season and doing more diving, it’s really nice coming off that season.”
Zombek, who became the first South Fayette diver to win WPIAL gold, executed 11 dives, none more important - or impressive - than his final two: a back, one somersault, two-and-a-half twist; and a back, one somersault, one-and-a-half twist.
“After I executed them, I felt pretty good. I got my points,” Zombek said. “I felt good about it because the dives that everybody else was throwing weren’t going to get them as many points as I could get.”
Those final two dives erased the memory of a shaky start to competition, one that Lions diving coach Chris Rebholz said was marked by championship jitters.
“Stephen did great,” Rebholz said. “He was a little rusty today. I think some nerves were getting to him. He dove really solid today. I’m very happy with his performance.”
Zombek doesn’t have much of a formative gymnastics or diving background, but when he was a kid, he learned how to do backflips with his cousin and brother on a trampoline he had in his backyard.
He later perfected his moves between lifeguard shifts on one of the four boards and platform at at the Settlers Cabin wave pool.
Now, after narrowly missing out on first place last year, Zombek is a WPIAL champion.
“He has a great attitude and work ethic,” Rebholz said. “If I ask him to do something, he’s always willing to try it. He listens to all the advice and criticism that I give him. He’s willing to make any change he can to get better.”
In other results, Ringgold’s Jonathan Simmons placed 12th with a scorer of 243.10.
South Fayette’s Grace Klimek netted a 394.65 on the girls side, good enough for third place, as Mohawk’s McKenzie Stelter took gold with a 419.85.
The top nine advance to the PIAA Class AA meet, which will be held March 13-14 at Bucknell University.