The road to this week’s Illinois High School Association state swimming and diving finals started a long time ago for a local pair of athletes.
Both Marian Catholic diver Joey Cifelli and Homewood-Flossmoor swimmer Jakobi McClellan have been in the water since they both could walk.
From a young age, Marian's Cifelli loved heights, jumping off things and the water.
Because of that love -- and for her son’s safety -- Cifeli's mother decided that it was time to get him involved in swimming and diving.
“I started swimming when I was little,” he said. "I was also a daredevil. When I was (9 years old), my mom thought that I should try diving so I wouldn’t get killed jumping off of things.”
Cifelli started taking diving classes at Homewood-Flossmoor’s pool that year. By the next year, he was promoted to a class full of high school students.
By his freshman year at Marian Catholic, he decided that he wanted to take his training to another level and dive competitively.
For many high school athlete’s that would mean going out for the school team and giving it your all for three months during the season, then moving on to another sport when the weather changes.
Not Cifelli. While he will represent the Spartans in this weekend’s IHSA state finals in Evanston, he decided to make the sport a full-time commitment.
Cifelli trains year-round as part of the Windy City Diving team at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“I really didn’t get serious about it until my freshman year,” he said. “Now I train six days a week with coach Susan Bromberg at UIC. I want to compete at a national level and get to the U.S. Olympic trials."
But hoping to be an Olympian hasn’t lessened the meaning of competing for a state title Saturday.
“Competing against the best divers in the country showed me what I need to do every day,” Cifelli said. “This is really exciting; state is the best place to be. I know the top 12 guys from competing at regional and national competitions, so this weekend I get to see a lot of friends.”
Coming into the meet Cifelli is the favorite to take home the title after finishing second last year and posting the top score in the state at last week’s Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional
McClellan’s story is very similar as their son’s safety was a major factor in his parents getting him into swimming.
“When I was a toddler, I would jump into my cousin’s swimming pool,” said McClellan, who won the 100 back title at sectional. “To make sure I didn’t drown, my parents put me in swim lessons right away. I loved it. From there, I went on to the H-F swim club and now I’m here on the team.”
McClellan will face a tough road to a state title, but he believes that his coaching and the support of his teammates can see him through.
“It means a lot getting here, again,” McClellan said. “I was there on a relay my freshman year, so it’ll be different being there as an individual."