When North Carolina diving coach Kevin Lawrence retired in 2012 after accepting an assignment with the Peace Corps, New Mexico coach Abel Sanchez applied for the job — only to fall short of receiving the position ultimately filled by N.C. State’s Jenny Johansen.
Nearly a year later, Johansen’s husband Drew, the diving coach at Duke, accepted a job at Indiana, leading to her early exit that again left a coaching void in UNC’s diving program.
After a national search, swimming coach Rich DeSelm and the UNC athletic department turned to a familiar candidate to fill the position — and for Sanchez, the second time applying for the position proved to be the charm.
Sanchez became the diving team’s third head coach of the past three years, and DeSelm said he hopes the hiring of the New Mexico coach will bring a sense of much-needed stability to the program.
“Obviously we want some stability, and now with Abel coming in we’re just looking forward to his experience, knowledge of the sport and passion for helping young divers improve,” he said.
“We hope for him to establish this as his program and be here for a long time while recruiting well and helping us win some championships.”
Rising sophomore diver Ozzie Moyer said similar to last year with Johansen, he and his teammates have each received phone calls from a new coach.
While it may be too early to say, Moyer said he already anticipates the team will make an easy transition between coaches based on the brief conversation he had with Sanchez.
“When we talked on the phone about a week ago, he seemed really nice — like an easy guy to get to know, with a personality that will be on point with what our team needs,” Moyer said.
“I am really excited to be diving with Abel and am ready to see what he has in store for us.”
A three-time All-American diver at the University of Michigan and back-to-back Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2012, Sanchez will make the nearly 2,000-mile move from Albuquerque, N.M. to Chapel Hill with an impressive resume as both a diver and coach.
Sanchez participated in the 2000 Summer Olympics, representing Peru, before beginning his nine-year coaching tenure at New Mexico. There, he led six conference champions, three winners of the conference’s Diver of the Year award and two NCAA All-Americans.
While Sanchez admits the move to the ACC will require adjustments, he’s already established a long list of goals for his new team.
“I think it’s going to be a big change,” Sanchez said.
“But my goal has always been to be the best, and we’re definitely going to have conference champions, NCAA champions and national champions while creating diversity in terms of our athletes competing internationally.
“The ultimate goal for divers in the sport is always to make an Olympic team, and I think this could be a great place for that to happen.”
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