Young Centennial diving champ displays depth of talent

In only his second year of competitive diving, Centennial sophomore Daniel Muller recorded a dominant performance to win the Division II state title. His final score of 518.25 was more than 60 points ahead of Liberty junior Evan Honer in second place. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Richard Smith, Independent Newsmedia

Considering Daniel Muller’s accomplishments during his first two years in diving, few limits should be placed on what he can do in his final two years at Centennial — let alone his career beyond high school.

Muller picked up the sport as a freshman, branching out from his youth gymnastics career. He finished sixth at the state Division II meet to cap his first year.

He rocketed to the top of the charts in Arizona early this fall and finished the season by breezing to his first state title. Muller posted the highest score of any diver during the state championships Nov. 3-4 in Mesa, finishing with a 518.25 to cruise past Liberty junior Evan Honer, who placed second in Division II with 457.05.

“Last year I set the bar really low because it was my first year and I was a freshman. This year I walked in with pretty high expectations from all the invitationals going into state,” Muller said. “I was averaging 8s and 8.5s throughout the firs half of the competition. Then I hit a point where I got 9.5s and that really set it in for me that I had a pretty good idea I was going to win.”

Muller knew he was on track when he won the early season Wolves Classic in Chandler by 20 points despite failing a dive. He missed on the reverse 2 1/2 which has a degree of difficulty of 3.0. His twister dive is also good for boosting his score.

Picking up a diving coach that has seen it all didn’t hurt.

Mandi Lanning was in her first year coaching the Centennial divers along with her Ironwood team. She has been coaching high school diving for the past 18 seasons and the last 15 have been at Ironwood High School.

“I knew the Centennial kids from district diving events and practice,” she stated in an email. “Since Centennial doesn’t have a diving well they have always had to travel for practice. They are brought over to Ironwood for practice and we manage to work it out for the weekly meets. We all travel to the same invitations and then we are also in the same division for state.”

Muller said Lanning was very helpful at practice and helped him tweak the finer points of his dives so he could improve his scores.

His deacade-plus of youth gymnastics gave Muller a head start. He said the toughest concept was hitting the end of the board correctly before starting the dive.

“I did gymnastics for 11 years prior to diving so the concept was easy to pick up. The technique and landing was different. But air awareness is a big thing (in both sports),” Muller said.

But, as Lanning said, not every gymnastics whiz can make the transition this seamlessly.

“Daniel is an exceptional diver and a very motivated athlete. His background in gymnastics and trampoline has given him an advantage but he has had to make several adaptations while learning the sport of springboard diving,” Lanning stated. “He is self motivated and challenges himself to always find room to improve. He is great at setting goals that are challenging and he understands that you need to work hard in order to grow and get better.”

A developing rivalry with Honer at a sister district school helped push Muller too. Another junior, Ironwood’s Joseph Rivera, placed sixth and trains with Muller during the high school season.

“Evan and I were neck and neck the whole season. He was really close to me. So it was fun to compete against him and see where we were,” Muller said.

Lanning stated that she sees great potential in Muller and appreciates the way he carries himself.

“The sky is the limit for Daniel. I am very excited to see what the future holds for this very talented and humble young man. He sets a great example of what a state champion should be,” Lanning stated.

Muller said his main goal is to dive in college, so he does not plan on slowing down after the state title. He is part of the fairly-new Phoenix Dive Club that meets at Brophy Prep High School.

But he has one big goal for his last two years of high school meets

“The state record is 540 and at district, I got 536. The Olympian Sam Dorman holds that record, so I’m really trying to break that,” Muller said.

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