April 20, 2007

Bourne set marks after late arrival

Attracted to Chicago for its “How do you feel about Wednesday?” application essay prompt, fourth-year Ashley Bourne arrived on campus without any previous diving experience. Four years later, she’s leaving Hyde Park having made a big splash at Myers-McLoraine and an even bigger dent in the record books.

Joining the Maroons at the start of her second year, Bourne brought a fearless personality and an athletic strain with her to Hyde Park that helped her make up for a lack of time around the diving boards and become one of the program’s top divers with three school records to her name. The 5-foot-8 Bourne played volleyball in high school and spent time on the crew team as a first-year, but her biggest boost came from gymnastics training and an affinity for the water as a kid.

“I was one of those little kids who would spend four hours in the pool at a time,” Bourne said. “I’d hurl myself off of diving boards over the summer and see how many flips I could get in before I’d hit the water.”

No stranger to Ratner, Bourne started logging plenty of hours by the pool when she began her lifeguard duties as a freshman. She hadn’t thought about suiting up with the squad, though, until third-year Elizabeth Finn approached her one day after practice and convinced her to check out Chicago’s still-developing diving program.

“Not too many divers were looking at us because we never had any stability in coaches, and we don’t have the diving equipment for training,” head coach Jason Weber said.

Without some of the key equipment to master new maneuvers before climbing up to the boards, Chicago’s team of mostly first-time divers learns the sport by trial and error. Here’s where Bourne’s daredevil streak surfaced and allowed her to get past the notion of having to, at times, quite literally jump in headfirst to perfect a new dive.

“She bruises pretty easily, so you can tell when she’s learning a new skill or dive. She’ll have bruises all over her back, but she’s a trooper,” Weber said.

That painful learning period got shorter and shorter as Bourne’s expanding repertoire made it easier to make the necessary adjustments to add another flip or to change directions for the more challenging dives. Her gymnastics background also helped cut back on the number of black-and-blue days, giving her a foundation that jump-started her career.

“The way gymnastics really helps is that you know how to flip; just knowing how to move your body in certain way and knowing air presence,” Bourne said. “I know it’s why I can do some of the harder ones I can do now because I never had to go through that stage of figuring how to balance myself in the air.”

By the end of her three seasons, the former gymnast-turned-gutsy-diver had enough moves under her belt that she could compete against people with years of coaching before reaching the college level. Bourne could even pull off some of the twists and turns performed at conferences by the pool sharks of the league’s powerhouses, racking up crucial points for the Maroons’ best-ever finish at UAAs.

“She was a big part of the team getting sixth place and moving up. She’s been a great surprise for us,” Weber said. “She learned everything from scratch and [did] an amazing job.”

“I wish that she could hang around for another year,” diving coach Tony D’Amico said. “She’s definitely leaving a void.”

Because Bourne didn’t officially join the program until her second year, she’s technically eligible for one more season if she attends Chicago as a graduate student. Even though she plans to pack away her swim cap, Bourne has left her stamp on the program by setting new standards in the one-meter and three-meter dives for championship meets based on 10–11 dives and in the one-meter in duals based on six.

“She had the talent and was a hard worker,” D’Amico said about Bourne’s record-breaking chances. “There was a point where she had to decide if she was going to push herself for it.”

Late in the season, Bourne came up with the extra drive, erasing first the old marks for the championship meets when the squad hosted the Chicago Invitational January 12–13. She posted scores of 314.20 in the one-meter to pass Finn’s 292.15 from 2004, and her 337.00 in the three-meter reset a record which had stood unchallenged since 1995. Two weeks later, she broke new ground in the one-meter in duals with a 202.80 day, topping Finn once again to replace her 197.50.

“Scoring is so subjective,” Bourne said. “The way I set my goals is more in relation to what I can do. When I broke the record, I was like, ‘Sweet, I broke a record,’ which is great, but I just beat my personal best by like 40 points. That’s where it counts.”