By Randy York, The N-Sider
The best thing about this week’s NCAA Swimming & Diving Championship is the line of demarcation that requires two venues to compete separately, yet share the same point total.
That’s a good thing for Nebraska because the Huskers have two divers who have the combined potential to score enough points that could catapult the Huskers into the NCAA’s Top 25 teams Saturday in Indianapolis.
Meet Anna Filipcic, a Nebraska senior from Omaha Burke High School who is majoring in Music and Psychology, and Abi Knapton, a Husker freshman from Omaha Marian High School who is majoring in Pre-Health.
Both were competitive gymnasts growing up before deciding to become divers, and both have the ability to score in national competition. How do I know? Because I asked Pablo Morales at Monday’s press conference in the Bob Devaney Sports Center if Filipcic and Knapton have the talent to score enough points to finish among the top 25 teams.
Freshman Knapton to Compete on Platform, Three Meter
Filipcic will compete Thursday on the one-meter and Friday in the three-meter boards. Knapton (pictured above) will compete in the three meter Friday and the platform Saturday. Together, they are capable to help the Huskers rank among the NCAA’s Top 25.
“Very possible,” said Morales, in his 16th season as Nebraska’s head coach. Morales was an NCAA champion swimmer 11 times at USC and won three Olympic gold medals and two silver.
“It’s just an amazing competition,” Morales said of the NCAA Championship. “The level of competition rises each and every year and since this is a post-Olympic year, there’s a competitive bump we’re in right now.
“To score in the competition is quite an accomplishment, and it would put you immediately in the national rankings,” Morales said. “If they (Filipcic and Knapton) are able to perform at a level they’re capable of, there is the possibility that both can score, and it could have a huge impact on the team to represent at the national level.”
Filipcic and Knapton are emerging as a dynamic duo equally determined to motivate each other in Indianapolis. The veteran enjoys watching the freshman she once was before qualifying for the NCAA Championship for four consecutive years.
In Her Last Year as a Husker Diver, Filipcic Focuses on Opportunity to Excel
“This is my last year diving at Nebraska,” said Filipcic (pictured above right with diving coach Natasha Chikina). “I’m just focused on the opportunity to dive here. I want take the pressure off and decide to enjoy the experience.”
Knapton envisions the same mindset in her inaugural NCAA experience. “You just have to trust your training,” she said. “Our preparation has gotten us to realize that we’re here to dive, so we have to keep doing what we do. Adding pressure to ourselves isn’t going to help either of us.”
Credit Nebraska head diving coach Natasha Chikina for helping a seasoned senior and a rising freshman prepare properly for the NCAA Championship. Chikina (pronounced chick-EE-nuh) was an Olympic qualifier in 1996 at Atlanta and in 2000 at Sydney.
A two-time NCAA All-American at USC in 1997 and 1998, Chikina has helped Husker student-athlete divers make 33 appearances in the NCAA Zone diving meet over the past decade. Knapton won the platform at the NCAA Zone D Diving competition to qualify for the NCAA Championship.
Opposing Coaches Offer Praise, Respect for Chikina
“It’s wonderful to have a strong diving team,” Morales (above) said, pointing out that he has always advocated having a strong diving component. “We were fortunate to get Natasha to come here 12 years ago, and I can’t tell you how many times coaches come up to me, unsolicited, and tell me what a great diving coach Natasha is. They have so much respect for her.”
Even though swimming and diving separate competitively, Morales loves the way his team meshes when one is ramping up and the other is tapering down.
“It’s a testimony to our talent, natural ability, mental strength and work ethic,” Morales said. All four of those assets enabled Filipcic and Knapton to accelerate their training under Chikina.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me that both divers have the talent to score in the NCAA,” she said. “We knew it was possible and Anna has been a very good role model for Abi. We’re expecting both to do well in Indianapolis.”
Seeing Herself as Average in Gymnastics, Knapton Concentrated on Diving
Knapton (pictured above) admits “I was pretty OK with just being average in gymnastics. I knew I wasn’t the best gymnast, so I gave diving a try. I realized I was pretty good and it has worked out better than gymnastics ever did.”
Filipcic abolished tumbling and trampoline in eighth grade. A year later, “I was completely committed to diving,” she said. “I’m glad that’s what happened. I can hardly believe I’m a senior. When I watch Abi, I can't help but think back to when I was a freshman.”
Time marches on for both Omaha natives who train and compete in tandem. Who knows? If they perform at their highest level, Nebraska Diving could help Husker Swimming achieve a milestone that just might elevate both parts of an already unified team.
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