Thursday, September 20, 2018
Hometeam

Meet Berkeley Prep’s Nicole Stambo, a daredevil of a diver

TAMPA — Berkeley Prep senior Nicole Stambo does a dive that almost no other high school girl in the country attempts.

Reverse, two-and-a-half tuck.

It requires jumping on a 1-meter-high board, springing ridiculously high, tucking, flipping backwards — two-and-a-half times — straightening and knifing the water.

Other people don't do it because it requires too much strength and speed to pull off in a few seconds. But more than anything, they don't do it because it's super scary.

"When you jump facing out and then flip back to where the back of your head is coming down toward the board, well, that's what scares people," said Stambo's coach, Mark Ruiz, who is the director of diving at the YCF Diving club in Orlando. "But Nicole does it and she does it well."

Almost always.

Last year at the Class 2A state meet — while attempting the reverse, two-and-a-half tuck — Stambo's knee buckled jumping on the board and she botched the attempt.

It cost her a bunch of points and she ended up taking second overall, a disappointment after handily winning the state title as a sophomore.

"It's a risk-reward dive," Ruiz said. "You hit it and it's a big points, but it's so difficult that you could miss it."

Again, almost always Stambo hits it.

That's part of the reason, along with the fact she performs her 10 other dives during a competition extraordinarily well, that she has, among other things:

• Set the school diving record with a whopping 531.65 points.

• Won the state title as a sophomore with 507.95 points.

• Been named a high school All-American three years in a row (awarded to the top 100 divers in the country each year).

• Earned a scholarship to Southern Methodist University, after getting recruited by every major college swimming program in the country.

Stambo shrugs and smiles at all of it, seemingly not too caught up in the hoopla.

"I'm just happy to be doing what I love to do," Stambo said, which translated means she loves using her incredible athleticism in a variety of ways.

Berkeley Prep senior Nicole Stambo has committed to dive for Southern Methodist University next fall. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

The love started at age 3 with gymnastics, which she did until the seventh grade, finishing near the top in national competitions, just a few steps away from Olympic-caliber events.

Until, that is, she broke her nose and wrist after taking a couple of severe tumbles.

With a bandage on her nose, she said she thought, "Maybe I should try something else."

She played soccer and was great at it, starting for Berkeley Prep as an eighth grader.

She pole vaulted and was great at it, setting the school record at 10 feet, 7 inches and finishing fifth at state as a sophomore.

She also dived, and, of course, was great at it.

"I decided to focus on diving," Stambo, who dropped the other sports last year. "I would say diving is my biggest passion."

So passionate, in fact, that three or four times a week Nicole and her mom Lori jump in the car and travel about two hours (sometimes up to three if there's an accident) to see Ruiz in Orlando for several hours of diving practice.

Dive. Dive. Dive. Dive. Dive.

Off the 1-meter and 3-meter boards, then off the 10-meter platform.

Then Stambo and her mom drive back, Nicole pretty much doing her homework in the passenger's seat the whole time.

Straight As? You bet.

"I want to be a dermatologist," said Stambo, who is taking a bit after mom who majored in chemistry, and her dad Nick, who is an interventional radiologist. "That's another reason I chose SMU. They have a good medical program."

All the while in the back of her mind Stambo has tucked away the Olympic dream, which she has held onto since her days as a little gymnast.

But first things first.

Which means focusing on the dives at hand.

After all, there's no other way to be if you want to pull off something like the momentous reverse, two-and-a-half tuck.

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