Elk River senior Sam Hlavachek capped off his storied career with a third-place finish at the Class 2A state diving tournament on Thursday, March 18, at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. Hlavachek finished with a score of 369.7, missing first place by just 2.4 points.
Hlavachek said he approached the state diving meet as if it were a regular-season meet.
“[I] took it one dive at a time and was a little less, I wouldn’t say nervous, but that my nerves were definitely a lot more calm than the years prior,” Hlavachek said. “That meet went well for me. There were a couple hiccups with board work on some of my dives, but otherwise, everything was pretty good. I’m happy with how it went.”
This third-place finish at the state tournament is one of Hlavachek’s many accomplishments in his six years competing for the Elks. Hlavachek, began diving for Elk River in seventh grade during the 2015-16 season. In 2015-16, he finished in seventh place at the Section 8-2A diving competition. In 2016-17, his eighth-grade year, Hlavachek qualified for the 2017 Class 2A state tournament as an eighth grader. In 2017-18, he won first place at the 2018 section 1-meter diving competition and was named Section 8-2A Diver of the Year. At the 2018 state tournament, he finished eighth and earned all-state honors. In 2018-19, he finished third in the section diving competition and finished seventh at the state tournament. Last season, Hlavachek was the Section 8-2A diving champion, but he finished 11th at the 2020 State diving competition with a score of 341.8. In his 2020-21 senior season, he was the Section 8-2A section champion, the section diver of the year and set VandenBerge Middle School and Elk River program records.
On Feb. 26, during Elk River’s 98-79 win over Armstrong at VandenBerge Middle School, Hlavachek set the school, personal and pool record in the 1-meter dive with a score of 348.85. His 369.7 at the state tournament eclipsed the record he set earlier this season.
Elks head diving coach Bret Beecher said Hlavachek is very dedicated to the sport of diving even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What happened with Sam when all that happened is he just stepped up and figured out other ways to continue to train in his sport, continue to get better at his sport and to go after the goal he had set the year before,” Beecher said. “That’s the big thing, especially his senior year.
“A lot of student-athletes had to make that decision, ‘Do I retire from my sport? Do I sit back for the next three months and wait until practices open up, or do I do something that’s going to continue to better me in my sport and as a student-athlete?’ Sam took that direction and I can’t explain enough that that is unbelievable. You don’t see a lot of student-athletes that did that. A lot of people retired or resigned from that and said, ‘Hey, it’s over. I’m done,’ and quit.”
While Hlavachek’s storied career with Elk River swimming and diving has come to an end, he may continue his diving career in college. He is considering attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, where he may dive for the Pioneers, but he has not made a final decision. Hlavachek is considering majoring in welding. He said he likes working with his hands and doesn’t want a typical office job. His older brother, Spencer Hlavachek, is a pipe fitter.
“It’s something creative,” Sam said. “It takes skill and practice. It’s interesting to me. I don’t know. Something about welding is fascinating.”
Sam has been homeschooled since first grade. His mother, Becky Hlavachek, is his teacher. Sam said being homeschooled gives him more freedom to focus on diving, staying fit, welding, and outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing.
“Getting to do those things for a longer period of time builds more of an attraction to keep doing them,” he said.
Becky said Sam is a lot more confident as a diver and as a person.
“We always say that Sam is his toughest critic,” Becky said. “He’s the one that’s going to be hard on himself and he’s going to be the one saying, ‘I could’ve done that better.’ This year, we were sad that we didn’t get to see him compete [during the regular season]. Thankfully, we got to go to sections. We obviously had to watch state in the living room with our family. After his junior year, everybody says, ‘If you work for something, you’re going to get the reward for it.’ Well, it didn’t finish how he wanted it to, but he put in all the work. That was hard because he knew he put the work in for it. It was the circumstance where his knee buckled on a bad day [at the state tournament] and it didn’t come off the way he wanted. It didn’t make him any less of a diver. He’s still a great diver. Just because it finished that way then doesn’t mean that he wasn’t working as hard as the other guys.
“When state ended as a junior, he regrouped and he had to take a lot of time off afterwards instead of getting right back into club diving and had to think about what he wanted to do and how he was going to focus going into his senior year. He put a lot of time into weight training. His legs got a lot stronger. He felt more confident in what he could do. He put the time in and he grew that way and he had a great season this year. He definitely saw the benefits.”