From left: Anna Filipcic, Payton Michaud, Nicole Schwery, Natasha Chikina.
By Randy York
Pressure, nerves and stress were three words that came immediately to mind Wednesday night when Anna Filipcic tried to describe her ninth-place three-meter diving performance three weeks ago in the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis. Focused, relaxed and determined were the three words that popped out Wednesday when she described her fourth-place three-meter performance in the Last Chance Zone diving competition that helped her qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Filipcic edged a 2014 Big Ten champion Minnesota diver who finished fifth among the 50 divers making their own Last Chance bids to qualify for next week’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Minnesota.
"To finish in the top four proves you are elite and earns you a ticket to the Big Dance," said Nebraska Swimming Coach Pablo Morales, who also commended Husker Diving Coach Natasha Chikina. Both Husker coaches were multi-Olympic competitors in swimming and diving, so they understand what the difference can be for an 18-year-old freshman in the short span of three weeks. “Maturity,” said Chikina, a Kazakhstan native and USC All-American who competed in Olympic diving events in Atlanta and Sydney. “Anna wanted to win so badly in the Big Ten Championships that she was afraid to make mistakes. She was a little uptight and didn’t do so well.”
The best way to trump mistakes that often result from a fear of failure is to change mindset. “We’re extremely proud of how Anna battled against some of the best divers in the country to claim one of the few NCAA slots,” said Morales, a Stanford graduate who won three gold and two silver medals at the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games. “Even as a freshman, Anna proved she can handle the pressure of elite-level competition, and we look forward to her gaining the invaluable experience of competing at the NCAA.”
Filipcic First Husker NCAA Diver Since 2005
Filipcic, a graduate of Omaha Burke, made such a dramatic comeback, she beat the Big Ten one-meter diving champion in the Zone meet to seize an opportunity both desperately wanted. In the process, she also became the first Husker diver since Canadian native Amie Buoy, who earned that same honor in 2005.
“I had some really good dives in the Big Ten, but they just weren’t at the right times,” Filipcic said in a telephone interview from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “I ended up finishing ninth, but if I would have done better in prelims, I would have finished third. I felt the pressure in the Big Ten and felt a lot more relaxed in the zone meet.”
The overall performance of Nebraska’s three divers at the Zone Championships “represents a great breakthrough for our diving program,” Morales said. “To come out of a very deep and competitive zone with an NCAA qualifier is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Schwery Comes Close; Michaud a Role Model
Sophomore Nicole Schwery also performed incredibly well, qualifying for finals in both platform and three-meter and finished just one place shy of qualifying in a third event. “Our young divers performing so well bodes very well for the future and demonstrates that our diving program is in a great state under the leadership of Natasha,” Morales said.
“The Zone meet also was the farewell performance for Payton Michaud, one of our all-time great divers,” Morales said. “True to form, Payton competed extremely well and once again provided a great example for our young divers to follow. She has been a great influence on our program and the current success being enjoyed by both our swimmers and divers.”
Teammates Michaud and Schwery helped a self-described “overstressed” Filpcic regain her composure and show Minnesota, the only other college scholarship she considered, that the Gophers’ loss was the Huskers’ gain. “Lincoln felt just as much like home as Omaha did,” she said. “Just about everybody I met inside the program sealed the deal for me.”
Chikina: Comeback Performance Bodes Well
This week’s experience was a valuable lesson in perseverance for Filipcic. “When the first day of Big Ten didn’t go well for Anna, she started to focus and concentrate on one dive at a time,” Chikina said. “She knew she could do it. It’s easy to crack as a freshman, and I’m really proud of the way she came back. She put everything together when she had to do it. She quit being tight and really got competitive. It’s going to help her a lot in the next three years.”
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