Friday, November 16, 2018

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.

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

ST. PETERSBURG — Jefferson continues to prove that seedings don't matter in Class 5A. A week after upsetting top seed Hardee, the No. 8Dragons took down No. 4 seed Lakewood 34-23 in the region semifinals.Niko Duffey scored two first-half rushin...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

VALRICO — In the offseason, Bloomingdale coach Max Warner told his players the goal was to play on Thanksgiving weekend.That left a lot of perplexed looks from the Bulls."They didn't know what that meant," Warner said.Bloomingdale had neve...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

VIERA — Once again, the Plant Panthers proved they're the kind of team that can take a little momentum … and run you over with it.That was the case in Friday night's Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal as the Panthers rallied from an 18-10 halft...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

DOVER – Isaiah Knowles connected with Christian Helms on a pair on 10-yard touchdown tosses as Seffner Christian defeated Carrollwood Day 27-16 on Friday, giving the Crusaders their first playoff win in school history. The win, a rematch o...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Nature Coast 17, Baker County 16

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast, an easy winner most of its past 10 games, really never had the need to attempt a field goal this season. Nor did the Sharks need to throw much, despite quarterback Fabian "2 Fabe" Burnett possessing a talented arm.Bu...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Admiral Farragut 40, Cambridge Christian 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut's Courtney Eubanks came out for his first home playoff game ready to play.Early in the first quarter, Eubanks had an interception on defense and followed that play with a touchdown on offense as the Blue Jacket...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Citra North Marion 40, Zephyrhills 21

ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills' perfect season is imperfect now that it is over. A 40-21 loss to Citra North Marion in Friday night's Class 5A region semifinal ended the Bulldogs' season at 11-1. They were ousted in the second round for a second str...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Jesuit 31, Immokalee 3

TAMPA — What a celebratory year it would be if Jesuit could win its second state championship in the golden anniversary season of its first.The Tigers are three wins away from making that happen.Jesuit moved to the next round Friday with a 31-3...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Clearwater Central Catholic 30, Tampa Catholic 3

CLEARWATER — A defense that strong can forgive a lot of sins. Coming off of a two-week break with an uncharacteristic streak of undisciplined play, Clearwater Central Catholic presented itself with more challenges in the early stages of Friday'...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Football playoffs: Armwood 65, Lake Weir 7

SEFFNER – E.J. Wilson scored four touchdowns and Aamaris Brown had an interception return for a touchdown to carry Armwood to a dominant 65-7 win against Lake Weir in the Class 6A region semifinals Friday.The 11-1 Hawks will travel to Ocala Van...
Updated: 2 hours ago