Kansas Tabs Downey to Lead Diving Program
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas swimming and diving head coach Clark Campbell announced Gabe Downey, a Kansas City native with extensive junior, high school and club-level coaching experience and who has served as the Jayhawks’ interim diving coach since January, as KU’s head diving coach Monday.
Downey helped mentor two Kansas divers – Graylyn Jones and Nadia Khechfe – to berths in the NCAA Zone Diving Championship after coaching Khechfe to the finals on the platform at the Big 12 Conference Championships. Downey built a quick rapport with a young KU diving squad that returns three athletes for next season.
“Our student-athletes are really excited he’s going to be the head coach for diving,” Campbell said. “He’s going to be a great fit.”
For Downey, the chance to continue to build the sport of diving in his own backyard as a collegiate coach was too good to pass up. Respected as one of the foremost experts on the sport in the region, Downey emerged from the Kansas City area as a top competitor and returned as a top club coach. He was a four-time state champion in diving at Shawnee Mission North – one of just four, four-time state champions in Kansas high school swimming history – and was a Big 12 Finalist and NCAA Zone Diving Qualifier at Nebraska.
“He’s well-respected within the diving circles regionally because of what he’s done in Kansas City with his club team,” Campbell said. “Now that he’s going to make the switch over to college, he’s going to use those connections which are good for athlete development, recruiting – the whole bit – and make our diving program even better.”
Downey has watched the program for a number of years and has eventual sights set on returning Kansas to excellence on both the Big 12 and NCAA levels, a feat former Kansas diver Michelle Rojohn proved possible when she won an NCAA Championship on the three-meter boards in 1996.
“Growing up in the area, seeing the University of Kansas, I feel like I know what this program has been and I feel like I know the history and what it can be,” Downey said. “You look at the 1996 NCAA Champion – that’s the goal, that’s where we want to get back to.
“That’s a very high-level goal, not an immediate one, but in the short term, we’re going to continue to develop and expand upon the culture, train properly and get the student-athletes into that mode while looking to significantly improve on where we were for the Big 12s this year. As early as next year, one of our goals is going to be to get somebody to the NCAA Championships. That’s a high-level goal, but we’re going to go into the season with that as an expectation.”
Kansas swimming and diving returns 13 top-eight finishers from the 2015 Big 12 Championships next season and graduated just two seniors while welcoming a talented class of five freshmen. Kansas posted its best finish at the league meet in 2014 and will look to match or improve upon that mark in All-American Chelsie Miller’s final season. In addition to Jones and Khechfe, Amanda Maser returns for her junior season on the diving boards.
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