Mitch Raihle sprang from the diving board at practice last week at Spring Lake Park, contorting himself in air before entering the water with a minimal splash.

Coach John Karpe watched from the deck, not needing to use the TiVo player for an instant closer look. A leaderboard of pool record-holders mounted on the wall behind Karpe featured the last name Raihle in two places.

Karpe spoke over the din of swimmers laboring through yards of practice, sharing with Raihle details designed to help one of the state's best divers capture an elusive championship.

"I'm splitting hairs," Karpe said to Raihle, who smiled while swimming back. "You know me; I want you to be perfect."

A pursuit of excellence is why Raihle returned to the sport that runs deep in his family. His father, Lee, opened ABC Diving club more than 30 years ago. Older sister Tori won a Class 1A state championship and dived at St. Cloud State.

Now a junior, Raihle has twice broken the school record this season and aims to improve on consecutive fourth-place state meet finishes.

"He's the most talented diver I've had in 20 years of coaching," said Karpe, a former diver at Coon Rapids. "A lot of my college divers didn't have the same dives he has."

Recent success highlights Raihle's second act in the sport. He and twin brother Mark already were accomplished divers when they traded Speedos for sneakers as second-graders and began playing basketball.

Occasional use of the family's backyard trampoline and harness system kept Raihle in tune with diving. As an eighth-grader, he decided to get back to the pool.

"I knew that basketball wasn't going to take me anywhere in terms of college," Raihle said. "I knew I wanted me to do this for me, not because of my dad's or Tori's involvement."

One never forgets after learning to ride a bicycle. Reclaiming a mastery of diving proved more difficult.

"The basics were pretty easy but it was hard to pick up things like the reverses again," Raihle said.

He persisted and took fourth at the Class 1A state meet as a freshman.

"I guess you could say there and then I knew I made the right decision," Raihle said.

Placing fourth as a sophomore was less about excitement than unfulfilled expectations. Raihle found himself in ninth place going into the finals. Rather than fold, he gutted out a solid final round.

"It was frustrating because you expect more of yourself and you want to go higher than fourth," Raihle said. "But it's all mental. I kept my head in it and came back."

Karpe said: "Hopefully, this year he can just go out there with the mindset of, 'Hey, I belong here. Here are my dives and you guys can chase me.' You need that humble cockiness."

More focused and physically stronger this season, Raihle twice broke the school record and captured the Panthers' pool record. His score of 308.10 eclipsed a 24-year old mark set by Scott Lee, a former pupil of Raihle's father.

Raihle's enthusiasm was mixed.

"I mean, who wouldn't want a pool record?" said Raihle, who joined his sister on the leaderboard. "But I don't believe that was a legit score. On my second dive, I hit my shins on the board. The ruling is you don't get scored higher than twos but they gave me fives."

Turning his attention to the state meet, Raihle said he "definitely" wants to win a title. But he said he knows that "you can't go there expecting to win. You've got to work for that."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574