DURHAM, N.C. – Abby Johnston, who competes on the three-meter springboard, took out a note card and pen before her freshman season as a member of the Duke swimming & diving team to write out her goals for the season.
Back in mid-September she wrote her goals on three note cards:
One she kept in her room.
One went inside her locker.
And the third one went to the coaches.
One may assume a freshman would have modest goals coming into her first season of collegiate diving, but Johnston’s high school accolades were anything but modest.
Before arriving at Duke, the Upper Arlington, Ohio, native was a member of the USA Diving Olympic Medal Program (OMP), was a USA Diving national champion on three-meter synchronized in 2005, 2006, and 2008, was a USA Diving Junior National champion on the three-meter board and was a two-time bronze and one-time silver medalist at the Junior Pan-Am Games.
She was also a state champion as a freshman and junior, a state runner-up as a sophomore, a three-time All-America winner and a three-year letterwinnner at Upper Arlington High School.
So to have one of her goals be to reach the finals of the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Texas A&M’s Student Rec Center Natatorium could be seen as a reasonable objective for the 19-year-old.
The feat was reached by Johnston on March 20, after she successfully captured the NCAA Zone B Championship the previous weekend on the three-meter springboard. She also claimed the 2009 ACC Championship earlier in the season.
She became Duke’s first diver to advance to the National Championships in the program's history.
“On my goal sheet, my goal was reach the finals in the NCAA’s,” Johnston said. “And I did it, so once I got to the final I was kind of like anything goes. I just have to give it my all.”
Once there she didn’t disappoint.
“I think that every competition helps build confidence and meet readiness,” Johnston said. “The high school states were a good set up for the NCAA’s.”
After finishing seventh out of 35 divers with a score of 325.85 in the morning prelims, good enough to advance her into the finals that evening along with eight other divers, the freshman was able to move up two spots in the finals to finish fifth overall recording a score of 361.80.
The fifth place finished earned her All-America status.
“I would say I am more of a finals diver because it is a quicker pace,” Johnston said. “In the morning there are 35 girls, and you are waiting 15 minutes between every dive, which is mentally difficult. In the evening I would do a dive, dry off and go again. I didn’t have enough time to think about anything. It just was going and doing my dives like I know how to do them.”
Some of her complicated dives included a gainer two-and-a-half twister and a front two-and-a-half with a full twist.
The freshman received great support during the NCAA’s with all her coaches in attendance, as well as her Dad and fellow teammate Ashley Twichell, who reached the NCAA Finals competing in the 1650 freestyle.
Johnston though wasn’t the only Blue Devils to have success over that weekend.
Freshman Becca Ward captured the Duke fencing program’s second NCAA Championship on Sunday.
Junior wrestler Konrad Dudziak made history on Friday by advancing to NCAA Championship semifinals, following that up the next day with a win in the semis before losing in a nail-biting national championship match that went to triple overtime on Sunday earning him NCAA runner-up honors.
And the men’s basketball team took down Texas to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2006.
“Our assistant coach Dawn Chuck was on her phone the entire time telling us updates and basketball scores and wrestling updates,” Johnston said. “We were up to date on all of it. It was exciting and a great showing of Duke Athletics.”
Johnston’s successes on the diving board may have never come to fruition if it had not been for a back injury that prevented her from doing gymnastics, her first love, anymore.
She received advice that she should try diving because it is similar to gymnastics, but would not do additional damage to her back. She started diving competitively when she was 14 and has been successful ever since.
While her first official collegiate season is over, Johnston is nowhere near slowing down for the summer. She is looking to continue her success during the U.S. Spring Nationals and competing for the National Team at the Canada Cup from the end of April through early May.
She will stay at Duke over the summer to train and, hopefully, if all goes well during the Spring Nationals, will receive an invitation to the World University Games, which held in Serbia this July.
If that feat is reached, the freshman will have another item to cross off her goals list.