Stevens: Lobo Gabby Erickson Is First Lobo Diver at NCAA Finals Since 2005

March 15, 2012

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Really, there shouldn't be much pressure on New Mexico Lobo diver Ashlee Erickson in Thursday's NCAA nationals simply because of what Erickson already has accomplished in 2012.

Almost everything. Consider:

  • The New Mexico All-Mountain senior advanced to the NCAA finals becoming the first Lobo to do so since All-American diver Becca Barras did it in 2005. That's a seven-year drought snapped by Erickson.

  • Erickson also was the Mountain West champion off the 1-meter and 3-meter boards and was named the MW Diver of The Year which obviously helped propel UNM's diving coach, Abel Sanchez, to Diving Coach of The Year status.

    It's probably fair to say that Erickson pushed herself to a higher level in 2012 and that the pushing isn't done.

    If the MW Diver of The Year wants to make a splash at the NCAA Division I Women's Swimming and Diving Championships this Thursday thru Saturday at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn, Ala., Erickson will have to find even a higher level.

    This NCAA final is loaded with talent and there always is great pressure pushing off a board at the NCAA meet. A nation of swimmers will be watching.

    Erickson, called Gabby by her coach and teammates, earned her spot on the 1-meter board in Auburn by finishing fourth in a NCAA Diving Zone meet.

    "Gabby was fantastic at Zones," said Coach Sanchez. "The progress she had made from her freshman year to her senior year has been amazing and is the product of hard work and confidence in her ability. It's been very rewarding as a coach to see her mature not only as an athlete, but as a person."

    Erickson's path to New Mexico wasn't exactly an easy one or a steady one. She started off in gymnastics, but a move from Ohio to Michigan had her gym hopping and not exactly happy with gymnastics. So she gave diving a try.

    "A high-school diving coach saw me doing some fun stuff at swim lessons," said Erickson. The coach coaxed her onto a board and she had immediate success. But she wasn't exactly thrilled with hitting cold water.

    "I didn't like diving at first. I was cold all the time. I got over it," said Erickson.

    Erickson's ups and downs with diving weren't limited to the pool. She walked away from the sport in high school (Plainwell High, Michigan) and went back to gymnastics. A torn ACL suffered during a complicated tumbling flip sent her back to the softer landings off the boards - with a nudge from mom.

    "My senior year my mom pushed me to go back into diving," said Erickson. "I decided to give it a shot and see if I could get recruited.

    "I got second in state and Abel found me. I didn't think that much about why I was coming to New Mexico. Abel offered me a spot and I just came."

    The decision turned out to be a good one. As a freshman, Erickson had UNM's top mark on the 1-meter board at NCAA Zones. She made Top Ten off that board at the Mountain Championships as a sophomore and was All-MW as junior off both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards.

    Her success in 2012 might not have surprised Erickson or Coach Sanchez - but it surprised a whole lot of other people including San Diego State's Kristen Meier, who was the reigning MW Diver of The Year and MW champ off the 1-meter and 3-meter boards.

    "In an intense environment against intense competition, Ashlee was clutch," said Sanchez of Erickson's two gold medals at the MW Championships.

    The intense environment at the MW Championships will be repeated at Auburn - and then some. Approximately 322 participants will compete in the championships for NCAA men and women. There are 39 divers listed on the women's one-meter board.

    Student-athletes qualified for the swimming portion of the championships by meeting the established minimum time for the events in which they entered. Divers earned their spots off the boards at the NCAA Zones.

    The preliminaries will begin Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m. Live results for the swimming portion of the meet will be available through NCAA.com, and live results for diving can be found at DiveMeets.com.

    The one-meter competition has a pool full of talent, but there are some obvious holes caused by graduation and several divers taking a year off to train for the Olympics.

    Two of the top divers returning are Ohio State's Bianca Alvarez, the Big Ten champion, and Auburn's Vennie Dantin, the SEC champion. You also have to toss in Jaele Patrick of Texas A&M, who finished third in 2010, but sat out 2011 with an injury. USC senior Victoria Ishimatsu, the four-time PAC-12 Diver of The Year also is a threat as is Texas A&M's Janie Potvin.

    Seven swimmers and three divers will represent the Mountain West including Erickson, Meier and Anna Steiner of SDSU - all off the boards.