Lobos Head to Mountain West Championships Looking to Surprise
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/18/2013
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 18, 2013

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What: Mountain West Swimming and Diving Championships
Where: Palo Alto Aquatic Center, San Antonio, Texas
When: Feb. 20-23, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - You could say that in many ways the 2012-2013 Lobo swimming and diving season boils down to one word: surprise. It's the good kind of surprise, however, and it sends out the message that the foundation for a bright future has been laid.

As the New Mexico swimming and diving team prepares to make the trip to the Lone Star State for next week's Mountain West Championships in San Antonio, Texas, the team is doing all of its training and hard work with that one word in mind: surprise.

As most people know, the trick to a good surprise is catching someone off guard and shocking them. With first-year head coach Kunio Kono at the helm, that's exactly what these Lobos plan to do.

The Lobos are coming off of a second-straight year with a record above .500 (6-4). That mark includes the first win over the Colorado State Rams since 1993 as well as a sweep of NMSU. The Lobos knows how good they are. The Mountain West might have a different opinion.

Picked to finish sixth in September of 2012, the Lobos have talented Aztecs of San Diego State and defending champions Boise State standing in their way. The Lobos did not face SDSU, Boise State, Fresno State or UNLV during the season and have not competed against those teams in the water. But as junior swimmer Jorgi Hobson said, everyone knows how good those teams are. The Lobos' job in San Antonio is to show others just how good Lobos are.

"We know how good teams like SDSU and Boise are, but I don't think anybody knows how good we are," said Hobson. "That's going to be the biggest change in the conference, our team and how good we can be."

The goal with every conference championships is to win the crown. However, these Lobos are more focused on placing multiple swimmers in the top 16 so the likelihood of scoring is increased. With the squad Kono has this year, that is a distinct possibility.

Hobson and Marissa Campbell, two New Mexico natives, are both near the top of the performance list in multiple events. Hobson, who specializes in the freestyle events and the butterfly, should be a threat to junior Rachel Dixon of UNLV, who on paper looks to be the favorite in the 50-yard freestyle. Last year's champion and runner-up, Amber Boucher and Stephanie North of Boise State, both graduated. Sabine Rasch of TCU, who came in third, now finds herself in the Big 12.

Campbell is in the same boat. The graduate of Manzano High School boasts the fifth fastest time in the conference this season in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 23.23, while Hobson sits in third at 23.18. Freshman Shayla King is in 21st place with a time of 23.72, but the Georgia native is speedy and could surprise people.

Hobson and Campbell also are threats in the 100-yard freestyle.

Junior Monica Dudley is once again a strong contender in the distance free events. Sitting in the no. 9 spot in the performance list in the 1,000-yard free, Dudley has the potential to bring in more points for the Lobos. The 1,650-yard free is perhaps the most grueling race of the championships, but again Dudley has the chance to reach the finals.

The 100-yard backstroke also is rife with opportunities for New Mexico. Stelicia Flores, Julia Carroll, Campbell, Amber Amr and Caitlin Gardiner all swim the event well and the probability of having two or more Lobos swimming for a top-eight finish is there.

The Lobos' goal is to shock a few people and finish high in events. But they also have to avoid jitters and nerves. Coach Kono wants his swimmer to remember the setting in San Antonio is just like that of the home meets held in UNM's Seidler Natatorium. It's a pool filled with water.

"The meet is definitely bigger, it's the conference championships," said Kono. "But like I told the team, at the end of the day it's a pool. The starting blocks are the same, the lanes are the same and the water is all the same. If they can remember that and do the same things they've been doing in practice, they'll see great results."

Another area in which great results are expected is in the diving end of the pool.

Both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards are where Megan Harper and Michole Timm excel. They hold the top two spots in both events with Harper having a slight edge in the 3 meter-- 370.65 for Harper and 343.80 for Timm. Timm has the edge in the 1 meter-- 347.48 to Harper's 325.20.

Grace Huang of Nevada is third in both events and the strong diver will be fierce competition for the Lobo duo. But if this past season has been any indication of the strength of the two divers- the only healthy divers Abel Sanchez has had for about half of the season- Sanchez could be looking at two MW Champions come Feb. 23 when the meet ends.

"This year was a little weird having only Michole and me diving," said Harper. "We went from eight people to two but it's been great having her (Timm) with me. We feed off of each other's energy, push each other, and pick each other up when one of us is having a bad day."

Both divers have already been named to the All-MW team in their career. Harper was named both as a freshman and sophomore, and Timm was on the list last season. Both divers are still young. Harper is a junior and Timm a sophomore. The opportunity to medal in 2013 and beyond is there for this hard-working crew.

"When we come to the pool, we don't arrive wearing a tie," said Sanchez. "We're blue collar. We work hard and aim to be the last ones standing. These ladies have been working hard and I hope to see that their dedication has paid off."

Ashley Blanchette (100 breast), Lindsey Morris (100 and 200 breast), Hayley Martin (100 breast) and Samantha Moss (200 fly) round out the group of Lobos with chances of making finals and bringing in points for New Mexico. It's a promising meet for a promising team. The Lobos have already surprised some teams during the regular season with the amount of fight and tenacity they have. They're hoping that elements of that formula are still in place for the championships.

"The way we've competed and fought this season definitely took teams like CSU, NMSU and even Wyoming by surprise," said junior Heidi Zeiger. "Some of the meets we didn't win, but our tenacity is great and the things we did this year are a very small preview of what we can do."

Zeiger and the rest of the UNM team know what they're capable of doing at the MW championships. Now, the Lobos are hoping that their fans -- and the MW competition -- will be surprised.