Dubbed the “most successful collegiate diver” in Nebraska history, junior Abigail Knapton’s unlikely rise to the top of the record books began as a dream diving at the collegiate level.
The decorated diver’s start to her diving career began in the summer between eighth and ninth grade. While Knapton participated in gymnastics since the age of three, she hit a wall in eighth grade when she didn’t see herself progressing as well as she wanted to. Though Knapton was struggling, she still wanted to use her gymnastics skills in a different sport. That led her to diving, which she said had similar traits to gymnastics.
During that summer, Knapton had a choice to make: begin a new sport or continue practicing gymnastics.
Knapton chose diving and joined the Nebraska Diving Club. For Knapton, a couple factors worked in her favor when she joined. Her past gymnastics experience gave her a boost in catching up to the more-experienced divers.
“In gymnastics and diving, there is that fear element and coming into diving, I wasn’t scared to do anything,” she said. “I was pretty confident that I could flip and twist, that helped me learn a lot of the new dives as quickly as I did.”
In her three years on the Nebraska Diving Club, Knapton quickly grew as a diver. She spent her first year catching up to the more experienced divers instead of participating in meets. After that, Knapton began competing and quickly became one of the top divers at the club.
Natasha Chikina, head coach of the Huskers diving team, has a unique relationship with the diving club. Her husband, Kris Hoffman, is the head coach of the club team and both talked about diving almost every day.
This unique relationship not only let Knapton grow, but the couple knew they had something special forming. The pair saw Knapton’s unique athleticism and offered her a scholarship to Nebraska after her junior year.
After committing to Nebraska, Knapton decided to compete in high school diving as a senior. She wanted to compete at the high school level to represent her school and see the differences between a school and club diving circuit.
That transition was a massive success.
Knapton led Marian High School in Omaha to a runner-up finish at the NSAA State Swimming and Diving Championships and finished fourth at nationals for platform diving.
Knapton’s seamless transition continued from high school into college. As a freshman, she immediately became one of the top school divers at Nebraska. Knapton’s freshman season included 17 top-five finishes and qualifying for the platform dive NCAA championships.
“She has the ability to step up in a high pressure situation,” Hoffman said. “She did that on a pretty consistent basis through the latter part of her high school career and that continued into her college career.”
Knapton’s freshman season ended with her being named an All-American and qualifying for the NCAA championships, where she finished fourth with 297.3 points in platform diving.
Knapton’s success coincided with senior Anna Filipcic record-setting season as, Filipcic set Nebraska diving records at the three-meter and one-meter diving events.
Though Filipcic was a senior, the two knew each other from their Nebraska diving Club days as teammates. The two had friendly competitions, as Knapton described, against each other but were always helping each other out first. As the two grew closer, Knapton learned from Filipcic what it took to become a leader for the program.
“Anna was just an amazing diver, and she was my role model,” Knapton said. “Then she came here, and that’s also why I came here because I saw how well she had done in her diving.”
Now the oldest diver on the team, Knapton’s role has changed from the newcomer to the leader. Although she has improved, Knapton’s work ethic hasn’t changed. Her focus of always improving has been seen in springboard event and her personal best event, platform diving.
“We don’t have a 10-meter or 7-meter platform so we have to travel to either Columbia or Iowa City to practice that,” Chikina said. “We travel every weekend to train her there and prepare her for the big meets.”
Only practicing on a five-meter platform during the week, Knapton’s unique strategies have helped her become a stronger diver. As a sophomore, she qualified for the NCAA championships in platform and one-meter diving. That great season made Knapton the first ever Nebraska diver to withconsecutive All-American seasons.
The increased pressure has only made Knapton better and her confidence has rubbed off on the other divers. The different types of practice has created a stronger diving team.
Now Nebraska is sending five divers to the Big Ten championships, the most since the 2015-16 season.
Knapton is riding into Big Ten championships with her finest season yet. She has 21 top-five finishes and 13 individual diving wins. Through her amazing accomplishments, both Hoffman and Chikina have praised her great maturity over Knapton’s career.
“Now, I feel like I just have a lot more experience and a lot more to share with the freshman,” Knapton said. “I know what to expect and know what to do to get the job done.”