Poplar Bluff's Paige Bradley competes in rare double at state swimming

In this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo, Poplar Bluff's Paige Bradley, right, stands on the block during a swim meet at the Black River Coliseum in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Bradley qualified for the MSHSAA Class 2 championships, which started Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in diving and the 50-yard freestyle.

Swimmers dive and divers swim but it’s rare that one athlete will do both well.

Poplar Bluff senior Paige Bradley is the only diver in a field of 33 at the MSHSAA Class 2 championships to also have qualified as a swimmer in an individual event. There is only one other this year and last — Margo O’Meara, a junior from Westminster Christian and the defending Class 1 champion diver.

“It’s totally different and time consuming,” Bradley said of swimming and diving.

Especially for Bradley and the Poplar Bluff divers since the closest indoor diving board is located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Twice a week Bradley, her teammates and her father, who serves as coach, will drive the 170-mile round trip and put in two hours on the board.

While she is not Poplar Bluff’s first diver who also swims, Bradley is the first two qualify for state in both.

Mules coach Beth Lewis-Muse said having a diver who also swims is so rare that opposing coaching sometimes think there are two Bradleys on the team.

“We have to do that kind of stuff because when you have somebody that talented or that athletic you got to use them where you can and it’s the fact that we’re not a giant team,” Lewis-Muse said.

Now a three-time state qualifier in diving, Bradley will swim at state for a fourth straight year having qualified in the 50-yard freestyle and with Poplar Bluff’s three relays. She can only complete in four events and diving will be held after the Friday preliminary races on Saturday morning.

Poplar Bluff’s three relays qualified for state with consideration times with Bradley.

Lewis-Muse said Bradley will swim the butterfly leg in the 200-medley with Audrey Cisne starting the race in the backstroke, followed by Simone Anders in the breaststroke and Olivia Kirkman finishing in the freestyle.

Gabrielle Fortner, Morghyn McCain, Kacey Gregory and Audrey Rahlmann will swim the 400-freestyle relay for the Mules with Fortner, Cisne, Kirkman and Bradley in the 200-freestyle relay.

“She’s so used to a heavy workload that I think a rested meet might have an adverse reaction,” Lewis-Muse said of Bradley.

In the 50, Bradley ranks No. 16 with her best time of the season at 25.09 seconds. She placed 10th at state in Class 1 last year with a time of 25.35 in the final after a 25.15 in the prelim for 11th place to advance.

The top eight times in Friday’s prelims earn all-state honors and advance to the championship race Saturday while the next eight times swim in the consolation race.

Bradley’s goal is to break 25 seconds for the first time.

In diving, there are three cuts to reach the finals. As a sophomore, Bradley placed 27th with 136 points while last year she was 26th with 131.75 points.

Bradley won the conference diving championships as a freshman and sophomore, setting a new conference meet record at 415.4 points. She topped that mark at the conference meet last week with 439.55 points.

But, Bradley lost to Jackson’s Hadley Wyatt by 10.75 points last season and 8.75 points this season as Wyatt set a new conference meet record.

The Mules claimed the team title with Bradley’s victory in the 50 as Poplar Bluff’s lone win. Her diving score also broke her own team record.

“That’s the best I’ve ever dove,” Bradley said. “As long as I don’t have any regrets, and I don’t. So I lost doing my best and I’m not mad at all.”

Bradley also found a dive sheet that she liked and will use again Saturday.

Divers must perform certain maneuvers from the five categories — twist, forward, back, reverse and inward — during their 11 dives. Lewis-Muse said there’s a misconception that the higher the degree of difficulty the more points a diver can earn.

“The dive is not just the dive, it’s from the moment they take their first step,” Lewis-Muse said.

Bradley said the dives in which she is not looking at the water — inwards and reverses — tend to be her best.

“I guess because I can’t see where I’m going I just trust myself,” Bradley said.

Lewis-Muse said the points earned is a lot like gymnastics, which Bradley did from age 4-14. She joined the summer swim program in junior high and was approached about diving because of her gymnastics background.

To learn the different dives, Bradley attended the University of Indiana diving camp before her freshman year.

“A lot of it is the same,” Bradley said. “In gymnastics, it’s all about planting everything. But diving, you have to kind of change stuff in the air.

“Be ready to go with the flow a lot more.”

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