The mutton chop sideburns on Ryan Monteleone’s face may be the first thing people notice about him, but it won’t be the last.
The look may turn heads, but so does his talent as a diver for the Lewiston-Porter swim team.
He is one of 37 athletes who will represent Western New York this weekend at Webster High School at the 54th New York State Swimming and Diving Championships.
After being ranked No. 1 in the state for six dives most of the season, Monteleone enters the 11-diving state meet as the No. 3 seed. He joins senior Travis Wright of Lake Shore, freshman Timothy Finley of Williamsville East and senior Ray Fortney of Panama as diving qualifiers from Section VI.
Monteleone’s unusual facial hair garners plenty of notice whether he’s diving for Lew-Port or his UB Wings club team.
The look has been compared to Wolverine from X-Men.
“I get told that a lot,” said Monteleone. “It all started last year when I decided not to shave and see what happen."
The only place it grew in thick enough to look good was the sideburns so he kept them.
“All these college coaches all recognize me now, it’s become a signature,” Monteleone said. “I’m going to be keeping it around for better or worse.”
Taking risks with his appearance is nothing compared to his actions away from the pool. Monteleone is a thrill-seeking daredevil who loves to scale brick walls using just his fingertips, do back flips off roofs, and cliff dive. He learned to do flips on a trampoline as a boy. Over the years he’s perfected those climbing skills at Artpark, which is just a two-minute walk from his home.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy things and I’ve been in some scary situations,” Monteleone said. “You can be pretty high off the ground and sometimes to get to the next step you kind of have to jump a little. It’s just for fun. I’ve never broken a bone.”
It’s no surprise this free spirit is just as fearless on a diving board. He chooses dives with a high degree of difficulty, which gives him some wiggle room in scoring if the dive is not the cleanest. His power style allows him to get plenty of height off the board and spin and twist quickly, setting up the chance for a great entry.
For his success he’s quick to credit his Lew-Port coaches Josh Janese and Ashley Jones as well as Lew-Port graduate and current Canisius College diver Eddie Quarantello, who recently won the MAAC title on the 3-meter board.
Monteleone likes his chances of bringing home a state title in his fourth trip to the state event. Last year’s winning score was 506 and he already has a 556.95 this season.
“I’m not saying he’s going to win, but he’s definitely on the short list of people who are capable of winning,” said Janese. “Last year he was eighth and there were about five, six seniors ahead of him. Ryan is the real deal.”
It’s possible Monteleone’s fiercest competition could come from within his own section. Wright, a senior at Lake Shore, comes into the state meet ranked No. 5 and has a win over Monteleone in the Section VI finals. They have been trading blows since they were freshmen, but also have plenty of respect for the other’s ability. They are teammates for UB Wings and have been to the Junior Nationals.
Both divers will likely be named All-America for the second year in a row in May, having already hit the qualifying criteria from NISCA (National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association).
Wright scored a 534.00 to not only win the Section VI title, but also break the Maryvale pool record and his own school record of 520.25. The trip will be his third to states. He missed the cut in his previous two appearances.
Wright is looking forward to taking on Monteleone again as well as the rest of the state field.
“I’m confident. I know how to hit my dives and when I do it works pretty well for me,” said Wright. “I’ll be rooting for Ryan and for the other kids in our section, but I want to do well myself. Sometimes Ryan wins or I win, it’s fun, it’s like a push.”
A win by either one and they would add their name to recent past state diving champions from Section VI — Ian O’Rourke (Grand Island, 2005 and 2006), Nate Geary (Lancaster, 2007) and Shawn Hoffman (North Tonawanda, 2008).