FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A large group of NAU swimming & diving alumni, including members from the former NAU men's swimming and diving team, returned to Flagstaff this weekend for a meet with the current Lumberjack team and a homecoming gathering. For most of the former athletes, Friday's meet was the first time that they had been in the Wall Aquatic Center pool since their time as NAU students.
"It's great to see our former swimmers and divers back in town," said 16-year NAU head coach Andy Johns. "Some of them I've coached and some I didn't, but their love for Flagstaff and NAU is great to see. I think they enjoyed being here and it was great for our swimmers to see some great athletes that came before them."
The meet consisted of several middle distance swimming events, a 50 meter sprint, and both 1 and 3-meter diving. The current NAU athletes competed alongside their predecessors, with the alum's turning many of the individual events into team medleys. A few of the former men's swimmers even took to wearing fins to improve their performance, as the varying generations of NAU aquatic alums converged in the Wall Aquatic Center pool.
Friday's event was the first complete alumni gathering put on by the NAU program during Johns' tenure, and while many of the female athletes had returned to Flagstaff earlier, the men made their first trip back to the mountain campus since the program was discontinued in 1999.
Though the NAU men's Swimming & Diving program was only in existence for nine seasons, the squad produced many notable accomplishments, winning Pacific Collegiate Swimming Conference (PCSC) titles in its first two seasons (1991 and 1992) and wining conference titles in six of seven years. The Lumberjacks had five NCAA qualifiers between 1992 and 1997, the first NCAA qualifiers in the history of NAU athletics.
Among them was Brian McCluer, who qualified for NCAA's in the 50 and 100 freestyle and holds school records in both those events and the 200 free. McCluer was among the men's alumni who returned to Flagstaff on Friday.
"It's been a long time since I've been in this pool, and this was really a fun event for us," said McClure, who now resides in Tucson. "The last time I was here was before I graduated in 1997, so it was really neat coming back. It was a great feeling to walk back in this building and see the new swimmers and the old swimmers; the atmosphere in here brought back a lot of memories and reminiscence and it was a great feeling."
When the men's program was established in 1990, the captain of that original squad was Robert Vetter. Kristy O'Connell was a diver on the Lumberjack women's team, and she and Robert met inside Wall Aquatic Center in 1989 and eventually got married after they both graduated from NAU in 1992. The couple returned to their meeting place this weekend, swimming in the pool for the first time in 19 years, and were overcome with many great memories.
"It was so fun to be back in the water," said Kristy, who not only competed with the current NAU divers but posted the high score in the 3-meter event. "My old roommate (Anita Sperry) was here too, so it was just so much fun to be back on the boards and to see the new girls on the team."
"It's amazing to see how much this program has grown," added Robert. "We were the original founding members as a club team and got this program started and it's great to see how the women's team has grown since then. Four of the original members of our team were here today and together for the first time since we graduated in 1992, so that was really amazing."
NAU hall of famer Pam Rogers was the coach of both squads until 1996, when Johns assumed her position. He coached the men for three years, leading them to a PCSC title in 1997, and was thrilled that many of their athletes, as well as many recent and former women's swimming & diving graduates, made the trip back to Flagstaff.
"I think this shows that they chose the right school and are still proud to be associated with our program," added Johns. "It was just a great event to get everyone back together."