Skyline Coach Maureen Murrett paid her senior swimmer Payton Horning an impressive compliment: “She is a kid you just like being around,” says the Skyline swimming and diving coach.
Her teammates also enjoy being around her, even when she shows them tough love. Horning has become not only one of the top divers in the area but one of the team leaders as Skyline makes the turn on the second half of the 2020 season.
“Payton has really emerged as a leader,” says Murrett. “She shows up in whatever way is needed. She is an essential liaison between swimmers and divers and athletes and coaches and has helped build a strong, healthy community on our team. She is willing to take on additional, sometimes difficult, tasks.”
Horning enjoys diving and being in the water almost as much as she enjoys talking about her “awesome” teammates and what this talented group of swimmers and divers are capable of this season.
“It’s disappointing to be going through senior year with the never ending uncertainty and witnessing how different things are because our normal team traditions haven’t been possible,” says Horning. “But, when I walk into the pool for practice every day and see the team ready to go and ready to work, it makes the disappointment fade, because I am so lucky and so proud to be on a team with these girls.”
Let’s just let her go – she’s on a roll.
“One thing that coach Mojo said to us at the beginning of the season has really stuck with me,” she continues. “We were unable to go to the lake one day because of a storm and she texted the team asking us each to send one thing from that day that brought us joy. Seeing everyone’s pictures and comments was such an energy booster. It reminds me every day that we have the ability to motivate each other and that is so special, and definitely something I will miss once I graduate.”
The challenges for this season, while certainly worth navigating, haven’t been easy. The health concerns caused by the recent pandemic have thrown more than a few obstacles into the water. But Horning and the Eagles have done a good job of swimming around them the best they can.
“This swim season has had a rocky start, but we are finally putting in work at the pool and I am so thankful that our district is allowing us to swim,” Horning says. “We started our season out at the lake, which wasn’t helpful for us divers, but I loved going out to watch the girls swim in the morning and get to know our incoming freshman.
“We also started with some dryland before we were allowed into the building, and let me tell you, running sprints with masks is no fun. But, we are all doing whatever is necessary to keep our team safe in order to have our season run smoothly. One thing that has been hard for me is that my family is unable to be there for my final high school meets.”
Horning didn’t exactly dive right into swimming – or diving for that matter. Her athletic career begin on a mat, not in the water. She began gymnastics at age 6, and competed competitively at age 9. She continued to train about 20-22 hours a week and competed through the age of 13 in the USAG program.
“Going into my freshman year, I was burned out and I realized I was unable to put my all into the sport anymore because of its constant toll on my mind and body, so I decided to stop training club gymnastics. I wasn’t quite ready to leave the sport entirely, so I took initiative and formed the Ann Arbor high school gymnastics team and was part of the team my freshman and sophomore year until I realized that I wanted to solely focus on my diving.”
Enter stage right Paige Sundermann, former Skyline diver who has made the successful leap over to the U-M swimming and diving team.
“Paige really inspired me to try something new, and try out for the team, and I am so thankful to have had her as a mentor,” says Horning, who also thanks coach Ed Goodman for showing her how to take her gymnastics background out onto the diving board. “The fall of my sophomore year, I began to dive for the Skyline team, hoping to form a bond with the girls, while finding some forever friends. Skyline swim and dive became my second family from that point on, and I will forever be grateful for my friends and family pushing me to start diving.”
Payton, the daughter of Amy Kowalski and Michael Kowalski (mom and stepdad) and Michael Horning and Cheryl Horning (dad and stepmom), also makes a big splash in the classroom with an almost perfect score of 3.8 (GPA). She is a member of the National Honors Society, DECA(Business club) and Peace Neighborhood Tutoring club at Skyline.
Like swimming and diving, school also has had numerous challenges to deal with this year.
“School has been going well, but definitely has been a challenge mentally,” Horning says. “Our world is going through so many unprecedented events and we are constantly given uncertain answers, which is really hard, especially for our generation. I am trying to keep a positive attitude this year, and staying as optimistic as possible throughout our online journey.”
Horning says she tends to “run off the energy of others,” so social events are very important to her and help her maintain an overall positive attitude and approach. “I am so lucky to have my swim and dive team right now because they keep me going and keep my energy high so I can push through this crazy year,” she says.
Without blowing her own horn, Horning has accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. She’s also set some lofty goals for her senior year at Skyline.
“This season my No. 1 goal is to make the state team,” says Horning, who will join Club Wolverine’s diving club this season. “This has been a goal of mine since sophomore year, but this year I have improved so much and finally have the confidence in myself to go all the way.”
Her future, well, remains up in the air.
“My passion is to study kinesiology and that has been my dream all through high school,” she says. “The uncertainty comes after that. I have looked at a lot of schools but nothing has sparked my interest quite yet. I am applying to the kinesiology programs at University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Indiana. But, I have recently become introduced to the possibility of diving in college and that may be the next challenge I choose to give myself.”
For Horning, it all comes back to what matters most – team and family and friendships and bonding.
“If I was given one word to describe this team it would be persistent,” she says. “From the start, we have had so much to deal with and so many losses to grieve, but that hasn’t affected our ability to persevere and work hard. This team has not only held it together, but they have grown and realized that this season is unpredictable. And instead of ignoring that, they have embraced it. Everyone is working to get to know each other and bonding to the best of their abilities and it is so exciting to watch and participate in.”
Payton sounds like someone anyone would enjoy being around.