Shelby Cullinan

The Longhorns competed in the NCAA Zone “D” Diving Meet March 11-13 in Houston, as redshirt junior Maren Taylor and senior Shelby Cullinan qualified for the national competition.

Both divers won their spots on the opening day, taking a one-two finish in the 3m diving event. Taylor won the event with 709.60, and Cullinan finished behind her at 662.90. Cullinan narrowly secured the second spot, beating Cassie Weil of LSU by two tenths of a point. Senior Diana Wilcox finished tenth.

This is Taylor’s third NCAA appearance and Cullinan’s fourth.

Cullinan also won the platform diving event on the last day of competition, even though she had already secured a bid. Taylor came in fourth, followed by Wilcox in sixth.

Freshman Meghan Houston came close to her first NCAA trip, finishing fourth in the one-meter diving event. Houston had the chance because divers could only qualify once, but they still have to place in the top two for an event. Zone “D” only took seven divers and she would’ve been number eight.

The NCAA Championships will take place in Indianapolis beginning March 21, with Texas being represented by 10 individual swimmers, five relay teams and the two divers.

With only six women competing in Friday evening’s eight events, it was a quality over quantity approach that moved Texas into sixth place by the end of the second night of the NCAA swimming and diving championships.

After a less than stellar showing in the morning’s preliminary swimming events, the Longhorns failed to earn a finals birth in three of the seven swims at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center in the evening. However, divers Maren Taylor and Shelby Cullinan each earned spots in the evening’s lone diving event, the 3-meter springboard.

The second night got underway with it’s third team swim, the 200-yard medley relay. Texas head coach Kim Brackin elected to go with a young relay squad as freshmen Lily Moldenhauer and Ellen Lobb joined sophomores Laura Sogar and Bethany Adams.

Having barely made it into the "A" final as the eighth and final seed, the four underclassmen were unable to put together any kind of upset as they trailed throughout the race.

Despite their struggles, the team’s ability to outswim the Arizona State women en route to a seventh place finish was very important as it added 24 points to the Longhorn’s overall score.

The extra two points earned by moving up a spot allowed them to maintain their overall seventh-place standing, despite Wisconsin’s second-place medley finish.

Neither Leah Gingrich’s team best 29th finish in the 400 individual medley nor Kelsey Amundsen’s team-high 24th spot in the 100 butterfly were good enough to add to Texas’ overall point total.

Team captain Karlee Bispo looked to get the Longhorns back on track as she jumped in the pool for the "A" final in the 200 freestyle. Bispo, a freestyle specialist, got off to a great start as she was in third after 150 yards, but a tough last 50 caused the junior to fall back, finishing the race in fourth with a time of 1 minute, 42.81 seconds.

Sogar was Texas’ lone competitor in the night’s fifth event, the 100 breaststroke, finishing with a time of 59.60 seconds, which earned her seventh and added 12 points to the team’s overall score.

Texas was shutout yet again in the 100 backstroke as Moldenhauer’s 22nd place finish was not good enough to place her in the final heats nor did it earn the team any points.

Looking to regain momentum, the Longhorn’s had two divers in the deep pool’s only event for the night.

The 3-meter springboard was the first event of the 2011 championships in which the Longhorns had multiple competitors in the final.

Taylor and Cullinan were in great position to add to the team total and move Texas up the overall standings and gain momentum.

Despite finishing seventh and eighth in the event, the two women put together an impressive set of dives and their combined total of 23 points was enough to move the Longhorn’s past Auburn and into sixth in the overall standings with a score of 142.

Having just moved up, and trailing Arizona by only 10, Texas had plenty of motivation heading into the night’s marquee event, the 800 freestyle relay.

Bispo was quick off the opening block and swam in spectacular fashion as she led the first 150 yards of the race before dropping into second by the end of her 200. Katie Riefenstahl was next in the water and dropped another spot before giving way to Adrienne Woods for the third leg of the race. Woods dropped into fourth at the 500-yard mark and kept it that way for the next 100. Austin native Samantha Tucker swam a stellar anchor leg and was able to hold on to give the team a fourth place relay finish.

The team was unable to gain any ground on Arizona, who finished third in the final event, but their 30-point effort kept them within striking distance and increased the team’s lead over seventh-place Florida heading into the final day of competition.

Women's Swiming & Diving

The Longhorn divers will look to build upon their post-season success at this weekends’ Zone D diving meet.

With 11 Texas swimmers having already qualified for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, the diving team is looking to add to that number and put the Longhorns in position to take a run at their first national championship since Mark Schubert led the team to victory in 1991.

Unlike the swimmers, the diving team cannot qualify for the NCAAs through their respective conference championships. The teams must compete in one of the five zone meets held across the country.

There are 11 NCAA bids available at this weekend’s event, which gives Texas a great opportunity to add several women to its NCAA roster.

The Longhorn team will send four of its six divers to the competition, with freshman Sarah Gandy and junior Lauren Caldwell not competing after having missed most of the year.

The foursome of second-year divers is led by redshirt sophomore Shelby Cullinan and will also include true sophomores Maren Taylor, Diana Wilcox and Samantha Holland.

All four have previously competed in the zone meet with Holland, a San Antonio native, being the only one who hasn’t yet qualified for the NCAA championships.

Wilcox and Taylor were both very successful in last year’s event and are coming off strong performances at the Big 12 championships. Taylor, in particular, was very impressive as she won both the three-meter and platform events and finished third in the one-meter competition.

Despite only being in her second year of collegiate diving, Cullinan will be expected to take on a leadership role heading into the zones.

After having a phenomenal freshman year in which she won the platform event at the zone meet and went on to finish third at the NCAA championships, Cullinnan was forced to spend a year as a medical redshirt last season.

However, after several strong performances this year, Cullinan believes she is regaining her old form.

“I feel like my diving has improved a little bit, and I am more confident,” said the two-time All-American.

The diving team has had a huge advantage this post season with all three of their meets being held in Austin.

Just as the Big 12 championships were held at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center, the zone and NCAA meets will also be held in the Longhorns’ home pool.

“It will definitely be nice to have a home pool advantage.  We won’t have as much pressure, and we will not have to adjust to the diving boards,” Cullinan said. “It will be fun to have the rest of our team be able to come out and watch the meet and support us.”

It’s called the “Cullinan.” It’s a difficult feat involving a half twist/turn move on the uneven bars, and only a handful of gymnasts can do it. One such person is Shelby Cullinan, a redshirt sophomore diver who the move is named after.

In two years at Texas, Cullinan has proven to be an unstoppable force. Both her experience as a gymnast and her vivacious personality have propelled her in a sport that is relatively new to her. Cullinan spent much of her life in the gym perfecting routines on the uneven bars en route to becoming a nationally competitive gymnast. It was not until her sophomore year of high school after a torn ACL along with the encouragement of her aunt that she decided to try diving — just for fun.

After reinjuring her knee, Cullinan quit gymnastics and switched to diving full time, where she quickly became the top high school diver in her home state of Arizona. While her transition from an exceptional gymnast to an equally talented diver was sensational, it came as a result of hard work and a persistent attitude.

For Cullinan, the transition between the two sports was easier than most would expect.

“You’re still flipping and you need air awareness [in diving],” she explained, “but it was really hard landing on my head, learning to spot the water to know when to come out, and also trying to find the rhythm of the board because gymnastics is all power but with the board you have to be patient.”

Diving is also easier on the body than gymnastics. Cullinan recalls feeling pain after a gymnastics competition. With diving she is now able to walk and do other types of physical activity after a meet.

Despite the differences, Cullinan made the transition seamlessly. Diving head coach Matt Scoggin has taken notice of how her gymnastics background has contributed to her success.
“As a diver, she is very gifted because she twists really well from gymnastics,” he said. “She has good visual references like most gymnasts do. [She] knows where [she] is in the air and that has really translated into [being] a consistent diver.”

Her physical skills have been helped along by her “Type A” personality. At competitions she is often found chatting with divers from other teams, as she prefers to have fun while diving. Her methodology, while out of the ordinary, has proven successful.

“When I first came here I was really nervous competing and I thought that I needed to be really serious and focused, but every meet I was getting last, I was doing horribly,” Cullinan recalls. “I need[ed] to figure out what works for me ... I can’t focus on the dives in competition ... I have to talk, listen to my music, just get my mind away from it and have fun.”

Cullinan’s transition to diving has not been totally seamless. There was one significant hurdle she had to overcome as a diver — she is afraid of heights. With the encouragement of her coaches and consistent practice she has able to begin to conquer that fear. She admits that her best event is probably the highest dive, off the 10-meter platform.

Her fear of heights is a “work in progress,” Scoggin said. But he added that some of the best divers in history have been afraid of heights.

If Cullinan can continue to stave off her fear of heights and continue to get stronger, there is nothing stopping her.