FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona women's swimming and diving is several days away from the peak of its season: The Western Athletic Conference Championship. After a full season built around a specific routine of racing and training, the team looks to improve upon its fifth place finish a year ago.
Located at 7,000-feet, the Wall Aquatic Center on the NAU campus provides the team with unique training conditions; however the Lumberjacks competed all season at sea level and will do so in San Antonio, Texas.
The team opened the year racing and training, mainly at altitude. Then, the focus shifted to adjusting to sea level. Following that, was "altitude camp" back in Flagstaff in preparation for the WAC Championships. The constant change in altitude is a factor Head Coach Andy Johns deals with on a constant basis, but the month long stretch the team spends in Tucson and Tempe every season is the most significant part of the Lumberjacks' schedule, the 16-year head coach admits.
"It's the key to our season," Johns said. "We started out with a meet against ASU right after exams then we get into some real quality sea level training. That is a big key to our success. The girls go home for the holidays and are expected to maintain all the fitness and all the work we have done up to that point."
"The next phase leading up to our meet with Arizona and Oregon State really took us to another level of fitness and training with an emphasis on speed and quality of work. It is the perfect situation. It is similar to other sports in their preseasons. There is no school. There is no distraction. That quality of training is huge. They sleep better. They eat better. They train better. It really sets us up for our last part of the season."
The training and hard work put in this December paid off. The women swam well against Arizona State to open training camp then produced their biggest win of the year defeating Pac-10 opponent Oregon State in a double dual hosted by Arizona.
"I think after the winter training you develop a new sense of motivation," said freshman Emma Lowther. "We worked really hard and now it is time to see just what we really did accomplish over the past few months."
The final dual meet against UNLV and UC Santa Barbara was another step forward and the WAC Championships remain the final piece to knowing how well the team responds to a season of racing and training.
"We did something right down there," said Johns of the December training. "Now it has been a matter of getting back adjusted to altitude after being down at sea level for those few weeks. Down there we were really looking to set some good habits, getting speed and power and great quality work. We have to readjust to altitude. Training at the end of our season is more looking at refining and working on lots of little things to fine tune and be ready to go."
The training method is different for every athlete. Some respond faster than others to the season process, but the concept is to have everyone peaking at the right time come late February.
"The training definitely helped to put in some nice quality work and not have to worry about anything else," said junior Krista Maier. "We did some really good things down there and then closed out the rest of the season with some more positive results."
The swimming and diving season is built around the WAC Championship meet. It is what the team has prepared for since August and the work put in is a careful, deliberate process designed for the best possible results to come through at a specific time. That time is now for the Lumberjacks.
"We put the work in," said senior Vivian Landeck. "We stayed committed to our process. It was not easy but this is the time of year where it all comes together and the sacrifices we made will hopefully pay off. We pushed ourselves all year for the team and to have a great championship meet."