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Three Darton State Athletes Take Home a National Title

April 15, 2013

After all of our fall sports swept the conference championships, we didn’t think it could get any better at Darton State College Athletics. These three student-athletes, who participate in the winter sports of swimming, diving and wrestling, proved us wrong.

Crawford Berry

Buffalo, N.Y. - Darton State College diver Crawford Berry won the NJCAA Diver of the Year Award after sweeping events at nationals, and his coach, Drew Aultman received NJCAA Diving Coach of the Year honors.

The awards followed Darton’s excellent performance at the 2013 NJCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, where Berry won gold medals in 1-meter and 3-meter men’s diving and Lady Cavaliers Sarah Hoop and Kelsey Carniglia won gold and silver medals in the women’s events, respectively.

It was the first time a Darton student-athlete or coach received Diver or Coach of the Year honors, and it almost didn’t happen.

After winning the 3-meter competition on Thursday, Berry felt a little uncertain about the dives he would perform in the 1-meter dive finals on Saturday, he said. He originally had an extremely difficult inward 2½ penciled in as his fifth dive on his list of six, but decided to go with an easier dive during the prelims on Friday.

That night, he and Coach Aultman spoke about that list.

"I told him, if you don’t do this higher difficulty dive and you don’t win, you’re going to feel like you didn’t go for it," she said.

As Crawford climbed onto the board for his fifth dive of the finals, Saturday, he was positioned in second place and 15 points behind Indian River State College’s David Zarb.

The two divers had been back-and-forth throughout the competition, Aultman said. "My heart was pounding out of my chest when he was standing on that board," she said.

Then Berry executed. He nailed an inward 2½ that turned the national championship into Darton’s favor.

"Once he did that 2½,it was like, ok, we just won nationals," Aultman said.

Berry followed up with a front 1½, two-twist dive that kept Zarb off of his heels by ten points and secured Berry’s second gold medal of the 2013 NJCAA Championship.

"I just figured, if it was finals and it’s going to be close, I might as well go all out," he said.

Sarah Hoop

Buffalo, N.Y. - Darton State College freshman Sarah Hoop, after finishing fourth in the women’s 1-meter diving competition on Thursday, really stepped up for the 3-meter championship the following Saturday at the 2013 NJCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

She beat silver medalist Shanno Mesaros of Indian River by a solid 31 points to bring Darton State its first gold medal in the 3-meter event.

"I was psyched; I was really psyched," DSC diving coach Drew Aultman said. "She did step up."

Hoop, who this fall came to Darton from her home in Madison, Ala., said that Aultman and diving teammates Crawford Berry and Kelsey Carniglia were a driving force behind her success. She’s quite a competitor on her own however, and after taking the No. 1 seed from prelims, all of her focus centered on the championship title.

An inward 1½ had put her ahead of Mesaros early in the diving finals, and as it was winding down Hoop knew she was only a dive away from making Darton history.

"I knew if I did a good last dive, I would win," Hoop said.

She leapt from the 3-meter board and performed a full twisting 1½. A cautious confidence set in before she climbed out of the pool.

"I don’t like to assume, but I thought I probably had it," she said.

Moments later, with her team surrounding her, Hoop turned from the scoreboard and gestured "number one" to her mother in the crowd.

Jamel Sharp

DES MOINES, IOWA - Freshman Jamel Sharp won the 125-pound class NJCAA Wrestling Championship title in February, and became the first wrestler from Darton State College to stand above the rest on the champion’s podium.

Sharp, a Valdosta High graduate and AAAAA state champ, cruised through the tournament and dominated all five of his matches by at least six points or a pin. He finished his freshman year at Darton with an astounding 29-1 record.

"I was confident that he was going to win," said Darton head wrestling coach James Hicks. "I was nervous about every match, because we hadn’t seen any of these kids before, but within the first minute of each one, I could tell he was going to win."

It was a goal that had been in the mindset of Sharp for a long time.

"The first thought I had was ’I did it all of those years of hard work have paid off,’" he said. "I called my mother and she screamed louder than I’ve ever heard her; she said she was proud about how I showed everyone in our community how special I can be."

Sharp said his high school coach, Benjamin Scarbor, and many other people from his county have given him a lot of support in his efforts. “This is for them, for my community, for all they’ve done for me,” he said.

His triumph Saturday seemed to shock a wrestling world dominated by Northern colleges, as Sharp was unranked all season leading into the tournament.

Even after the final, as Sharp stepped onto the winners’ podium to be announced as the 125-pound champion, viewers of the internet webcast could hear the commenters say "wrestling is typically up here in the Midwestern part of the States... but we have a Georgia boy this year... they obviously know a little wrestling down there."

Hicks, who took over the Darton program on July 1, had only a little over a month to recruit student-athletes into the program. He said that he already knew about Sharp from his previous coaching job.

"I knew Darton was a half hour away from his house, and I got him to visit campus," Hicks said. "Darton was a better fit for him anyway, and things went our way. It took some luck and hard recruiting to get a guy like that in only a month."

"He’s very coachable," Hicks said. "A lot of guys that talented aren’t, and that’s what put him over the top. Jamel does everything you ask and he wants to get better. He trains hard and he deserves the title.

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