By Grant Clark
Two years ago CeCe Pennella was in eighth grade and a level 8 gymnast. The achievement came after years of dedication to the sport. On the vault she could perform a front handspring. Her routine on the beam featured an aerial dismount. This, and much more, were all part of her skill set.
At the same time Josie Krysinski was a freshman on the Black Hills High School girls swim team, just looking to find her place on the squad.
Since then a lot has changed for both high school students. Pennella has swapped out the beam for a diving board and there’s no denying the fact that Krysinski has found her identity on the Wolves roster.
“They’ve both certainly put in the hours to get to where they are,” Black Hills coach Henry Valz said.
All those countless dives and laps have paid off as both are two of the best in the state 2A classification in their respective events – sophomore Pennella in diving and junior Krysinski in the 500 freestyle.
Both are eyeing return trips to the state championship meet, which will take place November 14 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
Pennella placed 10th in state last season – the highest finish for a freshman at the meet and one of only two underclassmen to crack the top 10. Krysinksi, a captain on this year’s team, advanced to the state meet after finishing second at districts – a major jump from the previous year when she failed to even place at the district meet.
While Krysinksi was already a part of the Wolves swimming program, Pennella entered high school unfamiliar with the sport of diving.
Gymnastics had been a large part of her life for so long, but she felt it was time to try something different. A conversation with Black Hills diving coach Heather Wilder quickly drew her attention towards the pool.
“After I reached level 8 in gymnastics I really wanted to move on. It’s so hard to move up to level 9 I just didn’t think it was for me anymore,” Pennella said. “Coach Wilder suggested I try diving.”
Pennella proved to be a quick study.
“She made that transition from gymnastics to diving really easily,” Valz said. “She’s just a nature athlete. Obviously, there’s some similarities between the sports in terms of balance, but what she accomplished as a freshman really is remarkable.”
Pennella cruised through the Evergreen 2A Conference and district championships to become one of just four freshmen, including Tumwater’s Ocean McKinzie, to earn a trip to the state meet.
Once at state, however, her first attempt didn’t go as planned.
“I stood on the board during warmups and watched all these seniors for 4A schools doing these really difficult dives,” Pennella said. “That first dive (during preliminaries) was not good, but after that happened it took the pressure off. I just went out there and tried to focus.”
Pennella gradually piled up points after her first attempt and advanced through the semifinals with a score of 189.55. Ultimately, she posted a score of 260.75 in the event.
“She was incredible. In the finals she posted higher scores than divers who finished ahead of her at the district meet,” Valz said. “I think that says a lot about how much of a competitor she is.”
At the other end of the King County Aquatic Center, Krysinksi was putting the finishing touches on her sophomore campaign.
“What she did from her freshman to sophomore year was impressive,” Valz said. “To go from just barely making it to districts to finishing second at districts and going on to state – that doesn’t happen very often. Josie put in the work.”
Krysinski’s final time in the 500 free at state last year was 6:14.24 – a number she plans to trim this upcoming postseason.
“Getting to state last year is a huge benefit for this season,” Krysinski said. “I use that experience to push myself this year. It motivates you to get better.”
According to both Pennella and Krysinski, one large factor that made putting in all the work easier was the overall Black Hills team environment.
“That’s the big thing with this program. It is like a family,” Krysinski said. “Everyone is so supportive of each other. When you’re a new member on the team, we don’t care if you’ve never really swam before, or if you’ve been swimming on a club for years, we want you on this team. It’s very welcoming when you’re looking to improve.”