By Aaron Garland
Niagara Gazette — Niagara University swimming and diving head coach Ben Nigro didn’t need to look far in 2012, when he was faced with replacing diver Ian O'Rourke, who owned all four individual records at NU.
Faced with the challenge of having to supplant a seemingly immeasurable hole that was to be left by O’Rourke, Nigro found he didn’t need to conduct an exhausting search for a successor.
Niagara Falls High School alumnus Austin Devlin is nearing the completion of his freshman season as Niagara’s lone male diver, and has Nigro pleased to have found a worthy replacement of that role so close to the campus.
“It definitely is nice to find some local talent, to have people that are Division I-level in your backyard and people who have heard of Niagara University,” Nigro said. “We spend a lot of time in the recruiting process educating people about what Niagara University is, where we are, and with Austin, we kind of skipped that step.”
It is no small task to be the one to replace O’Rourke, who is the record-holder in 1-meter, six dives, 11 dives, 3-meter, six dives and 11 dives at NU. But Devlin has taken a unique, humble approach to his diving in his first year with the Purple Eagles, and flourished in the process.
He has done so by not worrying about following the prodigious footsteps left on the diving board by O’Rourke, or the success other divers in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference have had. Devlin puts his focus only into what he can control, which are his own dives.
It’s that selfless mindset that has ultimately led to three combined top-finishes in the 1- and 3-meter dives, as well as several other top-three results this season.
“I’m not into checking my scores or places this year,” Devlin said. “I just focus on making it kind of stress-free. I’d rather have a good time with the team — otherwise, it could really get frustrating.
“… It’s a way to better myself without saying, ‘Oh, I need to be better than this guy, or I need to beat him.’ That’s not where my focus is now and I really think that’s helped me grow as an athlete.”
Devlin has also been helped by having O’Rourke as the Purple Eagles’ assistant diving coach. The freshman has embraced the opportunity to receive pointers and instruction from such a revered diver who just finished what Devlin is now doing.
“It’s been great so far, because he’s been through all of this before,” Devlin said of O’Rourke. “And now, I’m kind of following the path that he took. So it’s cool to see how it’s going to play out because he can kind of help me get through a rough spot — he knows what it’s like when times get tough.”
As well as Devlin has dived this year for the Purple Eagles, it is only moderate success compared to what he accomplished as a Wolverine.
Each of the four years of his high school career (2008-12), Devlin won a Niagara Frontier League diving title en route to qualifying for the state championships. He is also Niagara Falls’ school record-holder in both six and 11 dives — he broke both his sophomore year.
Devlin and the rest of the Niagara team is now set to participate in the MAAC Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Erie Community College, which begin today and run through Saturday. The freshman will be seeded within the top-eight divers of the conference.
Nigro noted Devlin’s progression as a collegiate diver has been smooth this year, as he has adjusted well to the stricter judging standards of Division I compared with those of high school. This has led to optimism about Devlin’s prospects in the championships.
“He’s been diving really well,” Nigro said. “… He’s improved consistently throughout the year and has had some of his best scores in his last few meets. I think that’s definitely set up his confidence going into the (MAAC) championship.”
Devlin said he is excited for the new experience on the big stage, but is still more engrossed in facing himself, rather than other top divers in the conference. It’s an advantageous mentality that will accompany him not only the next three days, but beyond them as well.
“If I keep the mindset I have now through my senior year at Niagara, I’ll actually become better, because I won’t have an extreme amount of pressure on myself and I won’t eventually crack under pressure,” Devlin said.