Matt Sexton competes in a sport that requires him to fall through the air from heights some might consider terrifying.
Sexton, a senior at Westminster High School, has been competitively diving for six years and announced his commitment to North Carolina State University at the beginning of August. He signed his national letter of intent in November during a ceremony at Westminster, surrounded by a group of his peers who also pledged to play a sport at the college level.
Many of those athletes committed to play sports such as baseball, football, lacrosse, and volleyball. But Sexton’s commitment is a unique one.
“Everybody asks me all the time how swimming is going and I say, ‘No, I’m actually a diver,’ and it’s not something that everybody does,” Sexton said. “It’s very different and people will ask me what it’s like to dive from that high up because no one knows what it’s really like.
“It’s definitely a different experience and not something you see every day.”
Sexton was a competitive gymnast for six years before a recruiter from Lochearn Pool in Gwynn Oak came to the gym in search of summer divers. Sexton said he started diving about halfway through the season and ended up winning the Central Maryland Diving League Championships in 2014.
He was then recruited to compete for the Montgomery Dive Club’s national team in Germantown, where he has been competing for six years.
Diving is a popular water sport that is practiced in different forms around the world. Participants are required to dive off a platform or springboard into the water, performing acrobatics to get points from judges.
The five elements of a dive judges look for are the participant’s starting position, approach, takeoff, flight, and entry into the water.
“Diving is a lot like gymnastics in the air,” Sexton said. “There’s a lot of flips and twists, and you’re scored on a 10.0 scale on your performance and on how well you enter the water. The less splash, the better, and gymnastics definitely helped.”
Sexton said he succeeded on vault and floor routines as a gymnast and diving came relatively natural to him, with the exception of one thing. He had to learn to flip and dive headfirst as compared to finishing on his feet in gymnastics.
He said it took about six months for him to fully grasp the sport before he got comfortable.
Sexton said he is most proud of his national championship-winning performance at the AAU Red-White-Blue National Championships that took place in Coral Springs, Florida, in May 2018. He dived using a platform to hit just the way he intended in order to capture the title.
Springboards come in one- and three-meter lengths and are more flexible and bouncy. Platforms are concrete and Sexton said diving from these is more complex, especially with additional height.
“I still get scared to do the dives,” Sexton admitted. “But, once I’ve completed a new dive, it boosts my confidence for the sport.”
Sexton trains four days a week for three hours in Montgomery County while balancing his academics at Westminster as well. He will join a successful diving program at N.C. State this fall — the men’s swimming and diving team captured the program’s 26th Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2019 and placed fourth at the NCAA championships in March for the fourth consecutive year.
The Wolfpack have produced 72 men’s all-Americans and five men’s individual national champions in program history.
“The first thing I felt about N.C. State was the campus, and I immediately got along with the team there and the coach put a lot of time and effort into getting to know me and my family,” Sexton said. “I basically had the perfect package of diving and everything I wanted in a school because I dive platform, so it helped narrow down my choices.”