This is one in a series of articles from WeLoveAnnArbor highlighting members of the Pioneer girls’ swimming and diving 2020 state championship team.
Pioneer junior Alex Mercier first began as a swimmer but over time her enthusiasm cooled on the sport. She was looking for something that would light a spark in her commitment and soon began to warm to the idea of becoming a diver.
“I actually was a swimmer from first grade to about seventh grade and I used to swim with most of the swimmers on our high school team,” says Mercier. “However, I really didn’t like swimming. I didn’t like being cold because the water was always so cold. The only part of swim practice I liked was practicing starts and I decided I would try diving over the summer at my neighborhood pool.”
It was love at first splash.
“I really liked it,” she says. “It was totally different than what swimming was like. I know a lot of people are like diving and swimming are basically the same thing but they most definitely are not. When you swim you don’t worry about getting hurt, that’s not something you have to worry about. But with diving, hitting the board or smacking the water is a possibility every time you step on the board.”
Mercier made the switch and made it work because she worked at it. Many divers start a lot earlier so she had some catching up to do but was willing to put in the time because she had found something she truly enjoyed doing.
“My coach says diving is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical because diving is obviously a sport you do physically, but in order to get on the board and in order to do those hard dives, you need to mentally believe in yourself and your abilities,” she says.
That was the first step – and it was more like a giant leap of faith. And it delivered a “rush” she had never experienced in swimming or any other sport.
“You can’t have the slightest bit of fear or you could hurt yourself,” she says. “Diving stood out for me because of the adrenaline rush I get as I stand on the board, as I’m in the air, and as I enter the water. There is no other sport that gives me that kind of rush. The feeling after doing a hard dive is undeniably indescribable. I feel free. I feel strong. I feel accomplished. I feel relief. There is no other sport that I would rather do.”
Mercier, who has been diving with Club Wolverine for five years, has improved tremendously since first standing on that board and her hard work has paid off.
As a sophomore, she qualified for the state meet and landed 27th at the State Finals. She made a huge splash this year when she landed fourth (367.90 points) and brought home points to help the Pioneers finish first at the Division 1 State Finals last month.
The diving takes place the day before the swimming so Mercier was focused on what she needed to do, and there were challenges to overcome to reach her goal. “Going into the finals I was angry because I had almost gotten cut during the semifinals and I did not want to leave the pool early,” she says. “I was motivated and focused. I knew what I had to do and I did it.”
Part of her success this year she chalks up to her disappointment from last year. She carried those struggles with her, not as baggage, but as motivation.
“I was ranked ninth in the starting lineup and I didn’t even make it past the first cut,” she says. “I was so unbelievably frustrated. I felt embarrassed to be a part of such a talented group of people and compete so badly. When I found out we had placed second by a half point, I was proud of the swimmers for how well they did, but at the same time I beat up on myself because if I had done as good as I was supposed to we would’ve gotten first. I feel that’s how most of the team felt. They were proud but disappointed at the same time.”
Mercier says Pioneer’s success in swimming and diving comes down to creating a perfect “environment.”
“The space that Stef (Kerska) and Pat (Zakrajsek) create with the swimmers is unlike anything I’ve seen,” she says. “The expectation is set high and always seems to get met. The girls that come onto the team are strong and work hard at every opportunity they get to do their best not just because they want to do well in their event but because everyone wants them to succeed in their event. Everyone supports each other.”
Alex, 16, is the daughter of Celine and Greg Mercier and has a 3.963 GPA. She hopes to dive right on into college.
“I have started looking into colleges,” she says. “I am looking for a Division 1 school with a good platform program and one that has a good architecture program because that is what I would like to study.”
For someone who didn’t jump into diving until a little later in her young life, Alex Mercier is twisting, turning and landing in all the right places.