FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Following more than five months of training and competition, the NAU swimming & diving team will head to San Antonio, Texas to compete for a conference title at the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Swimming & Diving Championships Wednesday through Saturday. The Lumberjacks are looking for their first conference title since the 1997-98 season, having placed second or third in five of seven seasons since joining the WAC in 2004-05.
"I think if we are at our best we will be in the mix for a title," NAU head coach Andy Johns said. "We have enough strengths to balance out our weaknesses, so overall we feel like we are in a good position to compete for a championship."
The team went 7-5 in dual meets this season, defeating Pac-12 Washington State and earning dual wins over WAC foes Idaho and New Mexico State. Individually, NAU enters the meet having the fastest conference times in three events, with junior Fi Connell posting the best WAC time with an NCAA B standard mark of 1 minute, 58.11 seconds in the 200 backstroke and sophomore Emma Lowther owning the best times in the 500 and 1650 freestyle.
"We definitely have the possibility of some individual champions," added Johns. "Particularly in the distance and backstroke events as well as in diving we should have some girls competing for WAC championships"
Lowther also had the second best conference time in the 1000 free and sophomore Rachel Palmer has the second best time in the 200 butterfly in 2:02.87 and also has team-best marks in the 100 fly and the 200 and 400 individual medley. Sophomore Jordan Burnes has led the team in the breaststroke events while senior Chalene Dirks-Ryan has paced the team in the sprint events.
Another major strength of the team is its diving squad, which should have six athletes scoring along the three diving events. Junior Kristy Ardavanis has won five WAC Diver of the Week awards this year and has recorded the second best scores in program history on both 1-meter and 3-meter this season. Her season and career-high score of 308.70 on 1-meter was the second highest score in the WAC this season while her 326.75 top total on 3-meter was fourth-best in the conference. Seniors Holly Frost and Cassie Anderson have also continued to dive at a high level while freshman Kali Lents, a native of San Antonio, has also had a superb season and posted a team season-high score of 211.45 on platform, the third best platform score in program history.
Boise State, the 2010-11 WAC champion, left the conference to join the Mountain West after last season, but strong competitors including San Jose State, Nevada, New Mexico State and Hawaii remain in the conference. San Jose State had the top swimmer in nine events this season while Nevada diver Grace Haung was the top scorer in all three diving events. Knowing they will have to be at their best to face stiff competition, the Lumberjacks are eager and ready to make their mark in the Lone Star state.
"We are definitely ready to go," said Johns. "At this point it's a lot of rest and a little bit of fine tuning the little things. Most of the work is done and I think we are ready and excited to start racing."