2024 Gazette Girls Swimmer of the Year: Ursula von Goeler, Northampton

Northampton’s Ursula von Goeler was selected as the Gazette’s Girls Swimmer of the Year.

Northampton’s Ursula von Goeler was selected as the Gazette’s Girls Swimmer of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 04-30-2024 5:21 PM

Modified: 04-30-2024 9:35 PM


Ursula von Goeler likes making calculations.

Her favorite subject is physics. She’s decided to major in it next year at Bowdoin College.

But that love of matter and its behavior through space and time isn’t just limited to the classroom. It stretches out a meter above the pool, where von Goeler competes for Northampton’s diving team.

In 2023-24, just her second full season diving, von Goeler won the Western Mass. championship, set the school record and then took home the MIAA Division 2 state title. Von Goeler’s family and coaches all noted her innate ability to understand her body mechanics, make corrections mid-air and use that knowledge to succeed on the diving board. She was selected as the 2023-24 Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Swimmer of the Year.

“(Physics) definitely does play a big role in diving,” von Goeler said. “And I do really like the subject in school.”

Her father Peter agreed.

“She’s really enjoyed seeing those connections between the forces that are just things you read about in the book and seeing how they apply in life when you’re spinning your body off the three-meter board and what’s actually happening with your arms and your legs,” Peter von Goeler said.

Though that kinesthetic awareness is mostly an unteachable skill, von Goeler credits some of her diving ability to a long gymnastics career. It was her primary activity in elementary and middle school and she spent about 15 hours a week at the gym. She stopped gymnastics before high school and then spent her sophomore year in Germany as part of an exchange program. Though von Goeler had a bit of previous diving experience, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue with it when she came back to the states for her junior year.

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But a friend introduced her to the Springfield Area Diving (SAD) club, and right away, she knew she wanted to proceed with the sport. Thirty seconds into that first practice, SAD and Springfield College diving coach Pete Avdoulos saw her potential.

“We kind of call it cat-like awareness,” Avdoulos said. “No matter what, you’re going to find your head. She has an innate ability to find where she is spatially.”

In her first full year of diving last year – and without a diving coach at Northampton – von Goeler finished eighth at states. But this year, upon the introduction of Springfield College diving alum Sean Andrews as Northampton’s diving coach, she took off, combining her natural skills and experience from her junior season with techniques learned from Andrews and another year working under Avdoulos.

Right away, Andrews knew von Goeler would be a serious contender come postseason time.

“Technically, she’s an excellent diver,” Andrews said. “Skill-wise, technique, she has a great understanding of the physics of how diving works.”

Every day, she practiced with Northampton from 4-6 p.m., and on Mondays and Thursdays, she drove down to Springfield to practice with Avdoulos and SAD from 7-8:30 p.m. On the weekends, she often drove herself to the pool to fine-tune her dives.

Andrews was floored at von Goeler’s ability to execute his corrections almost immediately. And von Goeler rarely smacked — when a diver doesn’t enter the water vertically and creates a large splash. Avdoulos commended her ability to compensate in the air for any mistakes in her takeoff or hurdle.

“Something I’m good at is figuring out, even if I mess up, figuring out where I am and knowing how to get it under control,” von Goeler said.

Von Goeler’s calculations didn’t just happen in mid-air. Some occurred well before meets began, when she decided on her list of dives. She worked with Andrews and Avdoulos to strategically choose and order her dives to give her the best combination of difficult dives, but also ones she could perform cleanly.

While regular season competition only includes six dives, postseason meets involve 11 — a mix between voluntary and optional dives. The dive difficulty for the five voluntary dives can only add up to nine points, which means the voluntary section often includes simpler dives and the optional section includes the most difficult ones. 

Von Goeler made sure she could achieve the maximum amount of points between the two sections. For example, she changed her front double pike to the tuck position, because by decreasing the difficulty of the dive, it allowed her to move it from her optional list to her voluntary list, bringing the difficulty for the voluntary list to the maximum nine points allowed.

Early in the season, von Goeler worked to perfect some of her least favorite dives. And when it came time for the postseason, that served her well.

“I think it really benefited me getting as close as I could to perfecting those voluntary dives at the beginning of the season because it really paid off in the later meets,” von Goeler said. “That was one way where I could really stand out, by having really clean, simple dives.”

Von Goeler’s consistency in the voluntary section brought her to the precipice of Western Mass. and state titles, but she sealed both wins with the most difficult dive of all and her penultimate dive at both championships – a back 2.5 twister with a somersault.

Von Goeler wasn’t sure if she wanted to perform the dive. It came with a 2.7 dive difficulty – highest among all dives at both meets – but it was a risk. If she didn’t nail it, she’d be leaving points on the board.

At Western Mass., von Goeler headed into that dive with a sizable lead. She hit it, scored well, and finished off the meet with the 11-dive school record. She had been targeting that mark since her freshman year.

At the state competition, she didn’t have such a lead. von Goeler trailed Amherst’s Annabel Culbreth-Loomis, a club teammate, by about 5-10 points throughout the meet. But she scored a six on that dive from all three judges, and combined with its 2.7 diving difficulty multiplier, it shot her past Culbreth-Loomis and onto the top of the podium.

“It was just a really exciting moment,” von Goeler said. “I had never thought about the possibility of winning states, so when it happened, I was really shocked, but also just so, so happy.”