Stevens: Lobos' Erickson Eyes Mountain West Diving Crowns

Feb. 20, 2012

Lobo Swimming & Diving

What: 2012 Mountain West Conference Championships
Where: OKCCC Aquatic Center, Oklahoma City
When: Wednesday thru Saturday

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It's possible that the most heated competition in the 2012 Mountain West Swimming & Diving Championships will be competed mostly out of the water.

It's New Mexico's Ashlee Erickson vs. San Diego State's Kristen Meier off the 1-meter board and the 3-meter board.

"It's going to be a good, close battle," said Abel Sanchez, UNM's diving coach. "The San Diego State girl is good. It's going to be fun to watch."

Of course, how those two divers cut the water counts, too. These events merge intense concentration at the edge of the board, superb control and athleticism on the way down, and a nice entry at the end.

Really, you want that ending to be a no-splash zone.

These events should go down to the wire - and the water. Erickson has turned in the best score in the Mountain West off the 1-meter at 330.75. Meier is No. 2 at 311.48 and seven of the top scores posted this season go to either the Lobo or the Aztec.

UNM's Megan Harper has to be labeled as a dark horse at 1-meter with the No. 8 score (305.40) and UNLV's Mariah Skeen is in the tenth spot (399.90). Lobo Michole Timm has the 20th score at 2.87.48, but that actually makes her the No. 5-ranked swimmer in that event. Those five MW divers own all the top 20 scores turned in this season.

Erickson probably is the favorite off the 1-meter board. Off the 3-meter board, maybe you give the edge to Meier, but not by much. "This is anyone's game," said Sanchez.

The Aztec has the top score at 3-meters (355.60), to nudge Erickson's No. 2 score of 355.20. That's close. That's maybe an extra ripple in the water at the end.

Meier has six of the Top 10 scores in this event while Erickson has three of them. The other name in the top ten is UNM's Megan Harper in the No. 6 slot at 331.95. UNM's Timm is Top 5 along with SDSU's Anna Steiner.

The Lobos, who have no platform board to practice on, could see All-MW performances from Timm or Harper off that high board. Boise State's Amanda Burnett is favored in this event, but there are several divers who could grab this title.

In the pool, the Lobos also will be looking for All-Mountain performances from several swimmers: Monica Dudley, Maria Dudley, Jorgi Hobson, Marissa Campbell, Heidi Zeiger and Anna Lillistrom (freestyle), Ashley Blanchette and Hayley Martin (100 breaststroke) Lindsey Morris and Alyssa Keill (200 breaststroke), Stelicia Flores and Amber Amr (backstroke), and Samantha Moss (200 butterfly).

Monica Dudley might be the best bet as a triple threat in the freestyle races, especially in the 1,650 free where she has the Mountain's No. 4 clocking at 16:49.95.

Dudley isn't far off the league's best time of 16:45 turned in by San Diego State's Melanie Garibaldi. UNM's Maria Dudley has a chance to reach the finals with the No. 12 time of 17:20.

Monica Dudley also will be looking for All-Mountain honors at 500 meters where she has the league's No. 7 clocking. SDSU's Meghan Zimmer has the top time and is about five seconds faster than her two teammates. Dudley is less than two seconds off the pace set by the No. 3 Aztec. SDSU also has swimmers in the No. 8 and No. 9 spots. Dudley is No. 6 in the 1,000 free, 12 seconds off the top time.

Lobo Hobson is No. 7 in 100 butterfly and No. 13 in the 50 free. UNM's Flores has the No. 12 time the 100 backstroke and sits No. 16 in the 200 back.

Coach Tracy Ljone

The Lobos' trip to Oklahoma City is the peak of the season for more reasons than it's the MW Championships. It's UNM's last meet as a full team and the aura of the Mountain West Championships is a special event with all MW teams in attendance -- which means a huge crowd.

It's also a fun meet because teams and swimmers taper (rest) going into the event so they can be at full energy. That means the days leading up to the trip have been low key.

"It's really the best part of the season for us," said Tracy Ljone, UNM's head swimming coach. "We lighten the work load to get the energy back and spirits are high.

"That also means you go into this meet looking for season bests from everyone. Our goal is to get as many swimmers and divers as we can into the Top 16."

Of course, it's also one of the saddest times for Ljone and her seniors because it is UNM's last meet as a full squad. Ljone will say goodbye to eight seniors this season: Tesse Maciejko, Nicole Peirce, Erica Stuart, Tonya Gramstad, Maria Dudley, Megan Gugerty, Ashlee Erickson, and Maureen Abeita .

"We had these seniors through four years," said Ljone. "That's a great feat because swimming is such a demanding sport. You wake up at five or six in the morning to swim and most of these girls have been doing it since they were four or five.

"This group will really be tough to say goodbye to. They are a close group and they are great people, who have all worked so hard to improve while they were here. You become very close on this team. I think that's one of the huge pluses of Lobo swimming."