Highland Park, Sports

Diver Noam Kulbak’s giant second day helps him reach ‘biggest dream’

Senior is first diving state champ in HPHS history

Growing up, Noam Kulbak, now a Highland Park senior, had to find a new sport.

An abnormality in Kulbak’s heart made it unsafe for him to compete in contact and high-risk sports, including gymnastics. So Kulbak’s father got his 10-year-old son into another acrobatic sport, diving — only he didn’t tell him.

“Without even letting me know, he threw me into a (diving) class,” Kulbak recalled. “And I was reluctant at first, but I loved it and I’m still doing it and it’s probably my favorite thing about going about my day.”

The only thing matching Kulbak’s love of the sport might be his skills, evidenced by his championship performance Saturday, Feb. 24, during the IHSA championships at FMC Natatorium in Westmont.

Noam Kulbak twists in the air during a dive in the state finals Saturday, Feb. 24.

Kulbak, a senior, racked up 531.3 points to become the first state champion diver in Highland Park High School history. After the results were in, Kulbak said he had chased down a moment he’d been thinking about for four years.

“When I joined the team freshman year, I envisioned this from the second I started diving,” he said. “It’s probably been my No. 1 biggest dream in life to win this. I cannot even express my happiness right now. It’s the best possible way to end (high school diving).”

Kulbak’s entrance into the sport may have been an accident but everything since has been deliberate.

The HPHS senior takes improvement seriously, and after a runnerup finish a year ago, Kulbak didn’t rest on his laurels, according to Giants diving coach, Jonathan Roby.

“He just focused in,” Roby said. “Last year, he came here wanting to win and really, really fighting for it. And after, he just settled in, focused and was like ‘I’m gonna win it 365 days from now.'”

Along the diving journey, Roby said, Kulbak has been a sponge, absorbing tips and learning from mistakes, especially over the past year.

Roby called him a “cerebral diver” who handles pressure well and “in between the ears he’s just rock solid.”

Kulbak’s strategic mindset was on display this season when he abandoned a few of his more difficult dives when he recognized they “weren’t consistent enough,” he said.

Kulbak said, “I wanted to win (state) more than anything in my entire life.”

So he worked on perfecting his craft, and for the state meet, he submitted the same dive routine as he did last season. Kulbak said his lineup ends with his three most challenging dives, and since he entered the final round, after eight dives, in second place, he needed it — and nailed it.

Kulbak had the best score in the field on both his first (53.9 points) and second dives (58.9) on Saturday, with both splashes earning “ooo”s from the crowd. The results pushed him into the lead going into his final dive, which earned him 52.5 more points, more than good enough to keep him in first with 531.3 points. Nazareth Academy’s Cooper Kosanovich (508.85) and Rolling Meadows’ Kyren Whiting (502.3) finished second and third, respectively.

“He had such a great meet,” Roby said. “The last three dives were absolutely incredible. It was a little bit of a nailbiter going into the finals, but I had confidence he knew what he was doing.”

Kulbak does have one regret. He had hoped to compete against reigning state diving champion Matthew Yuan, of Glenbrook North. Unfortunately, the junior was injured.

A state championship will have to be enough for now, but Kulbak will have plenty more opportunities against strong competition while he is diving for Penn State University starting next season.

“I wanted to win this more than anything in my entire life. I mean it’s an awesome feeling,” he said.

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

Related Stories