Stevens: Lobo Swimming & Diving 2012-13 Season Preview

Oct. 3, 2012


Saturday: New Mexico Lobos at Air Force Falcons Recap, results

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The past of the New Mexico Lobos swimming and diving team is something that first-year Coach Kunio Kono and his Lobos plan to leave behind them like fading ripples in a cold pool.

Well, maybe not the past of the Abel Sanchez-coached divers, who produced three All-Mountain West performers off both the 1-meter and 3-meter board at the 2012 league championships.

However, the New Mexico team that was a model program in the classroom and in community service was not as outstanding in the water: only four All-MW swimmers in the past four seasons and eight straight seasons of finishing sixth place or lower in the Mountain West Championships.

Kono plans to change that - now.

"I came in here ready to turn things around 180 degrees," said Kono, "I'm not so much trying to do things differently as I'm just doing things a new way. We aren't talking about how they trained last year or what they did last year.

"We are creating a new system, a new bonding system, a new team."

Said Sanchez, UNM's head diving coach and two-time MW Diving Coach of The Year: "Kunio is the real deal. He is here to compete. This guy is awesome. He is an amazing coach and this team has already turned around."

Kono is looking at a building task similar to what Coach Bob Davie is facing over on the football field. Kono also plans to make his Lobos a contender for Mountain West titles.

UNM's only individual champion last season was then-senior Ashlee Erickson, who also was the Mountain West's Diver of The Year.

Davie might have had a little edge over Kono as Davie got to bring in the 2012 crop of freshman. Says Kono: "I was the last person to come onto this team. I didn't even recruit the freshmen." Kono was hired on June 26.

For sure, one of Kono's first chores was to put names to faces. But Kono, who came to UNM from UNLV, said he isn't exactly unfamiliar with the talent on the UNM squad.

"It's not a problem," he said. "I knew this team from last year because I was coaching at UNLV. I was more worried about coming in here and establishing a different culture. But things are going well. The girls are doing a good job and it's already a totally different team from the past couple of years.

"I feel we will do a very good job this year. The girls are talking about a top three finish. That might be a long shot, but they believe they can do it."

The Lobos finished sixth in the eight-team Mountain West in the 2012 MW Championships. That was UNM's best finish since 2004. In the league's preseason poll, New Mexico was picked to finish sixth in a nine-team race with San Diego State on top followed by Boise State.

The Lobos open their season at 5 p.m., Saturday at the Air Force Academy. UNM has beaten Air Force in four consecutive dual meets, winning 167-133 last year in Albuquerque. The Lobo captains this season are Marissa Campbell, Heidi Zeiger and Aubrey Bush.

Kono did inherit a team with a pool full of promising young swimmers (26 letterwinners) and Sanchez's divers should be tough - as usual.

Abel Sanchez, the 2012 Mountain West Diving Coach of The Year, expects another strong team off the boards in 2012-13.

"Aubrey is back and we're excited by that," said Sanchez referring to Aubrey Bush, a three-time All-Mountain West diver, who missed last season with a concussion.

"She hasn't done anything in a year and a half. She is more than rusty and she has to re-learn a few dives. But I think she'll surprise some people."

Sanchez also returns All-MW divers Megan Harper and Michole Timm. Laura Lee Thomas and 2011 All-MW diver Melissa Bollig return. Sanchez also adds freshman Courtney Brooks from Manzano High and LSU transfer Kim Harris, who will be eligible in January.

"It's a strong team," said Sanchez. "We have a deep, talented team and this should be one of my strongest teams. The diving team has a tradition and we plan to keep it going."

Kono also has some returning All-MW talent, but it all comes in the form of Jorgi Hobson, who took that honor in the 100 butterfly.

Kono has a lot of relay strength back in Stelicia Flores, Ashley Blanchette, Marissa Campbell (All-MW in 2009), Hobson, Heidi Zeiger, Anna Lillistrom and Monica Dudley. Hobson and Campbell should be threats in freestyle sprints and Dudley is promising in the distance freestyle races and owns the UNM record at 1,650.

There is depth in the breaststroke events with Lindsey Morris, Blanchette, Hayley Martin and Alyssa Keill. The backstroke races have talent with Flores, Caitlin Gardiner, and Amber Amr. Samantha Moss is a threat in the butterfly.

This is my challenge year, to build a foundation of success," said Kono. "I think the way this team is bonding is a strength for us. This year the swimmers and divers will be together and the whole team is on the same page with the same goal.

"I see no negatives on this team."