1. News

The Natural: Hudson High student dominates the diving board

NEW PORT RICHEY — All 78 pounds of Domineeka Luis hung by the tips of her toes on the skinny edge of the 1-meter board.

A sharp spring sent Domineeka, 15, airborne. Then she cleanly sliced into the water. Seconds later her head popped up.

"That was it!" Domineeka called out to her dive coach, Maureen Leech. "I went in like perfect! I felt it!"

"Oh-h-h! Yes!" said Leech, whom Domineeka affectionately calls "Coach Mo."

Three months ago, Domineeka had never tried diving. But the freshman decided to give it a shot when she started this fall at Hudson High.

She was a natural.

Hudson High's first and only diver in four years, Domineeka quickly shattered expectations and seized bragging rights for her school as she soared through district and regional competitions against seasoned divers.

And with just 14 weeks of diving experience, Domineeka's keen desire to fly off a diving board propelled her to this month's state competition.

• • •

Last year as an eighth-grader, Domineeka sat with her dad, Victor Luis, to watch her brother, Judah, compete in a high school swim meet. But her eyes kept straying to another pool.

"I was fascinated by the diving," Domineeka said. In that moment, she made up her mind she'd go out for diving when she got to Hudson High.

True to her word, Domineeka showed up for diving, three days before she turned 15 on Aug. 30.

"The very first day I knew this was just perfect. It felt natural, like it was what I was supposed to do," she said. She had dabbled with softball, gymnastics, bowling and karate. Nothing clicked until diving.

Hudson High's girls swim coach Julie Heise saw Domineeka's ability and called on Leech, who, as Pasco County's only diving coach, also works with River Ridge High School divers. She's also created the Pasco Diving Academy at the New Port Richey Aquatic Center.

"Domineeka has so much charisma, no fear and she's willing to try anything, always working hard to improve," said Leech, who competed as a diver at West Aurora High in Illinois and at Western Illinois University. "I give her critiques and she does what I ask. She has so much potential."

Kim Luis attributed her daughter's success to the perfect formula:

"It's a God-given talent and it's paired with a rockin' coach," said Mrs. Luis, who heaps praise on Leech for her calm instructional style.

• • •

Domineeka practiced on the afternoon of Nov. 8, polishing every twist and tuck for the Florida High School Athletic Association state diving meet in two days. She scurried back to the board at the New Port Richey Aquatic Center for another try at her best and favorite, a forward one-and-a-half somersault.

It was sunny but temperatures hovered in the low 70s. The dive pool is not heated. That doesn't deter Domineeka. She has found her passion.

Wearing a heavy jacket to bolster against the chill, Mrs. Luis sat on the sidelines with a huge fluffy towel, ready to wrap her daughter when her 4-foot-9 frame starts to shiver.

There's constant chatter between coach and diver.

"A little higher, kick then twist, kick then twist," Leech said as Domineeka, arms stretched far overhead, perched motionless and straight as an arrow on the tip of the board.

Mrs. Luis watched nervously. A disbelieving smile crept across her face as Domineeka repeatedly split the cold water with precision.

• • •

Domineeka and Leech knew the state competition at the Central Florida YMCA Aquatic Center in Orlando would be tough. The district meet, two weeks earlier at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, had pitted Domineeka against five others from Division 1A schools. She scored 315 points and advanced to regionals at the Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota, where she faced five others and qualified for the state meet.

As Pasco's only diver in Division 1A to advance to the state competition, Domineeka faced nearly two dozen top-notch competitors.

She was eliminated early in the Nov. 10 meet. But Domineeka remained cheerful and upbeat. She has three more years of high school competition ahead of her. She couldn't have asked for a better debut.

In addition to diving awards, Domineeka is also an academic honor student. She aspires to become a veterinarian and recently remarked to her mother that maybe diving will help her reach that goal.

For now, she and her family cherish the special moments of this fall.

"Her dad and I are just tickled pink happy with all she has accomplished in a short time," her mom said.