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February 23, 2012

Connell Wins 200 IM, NAU One Point from First at WAC Championships

VIDEO: FI CONNELL WINS THE 200 IM

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Junior swimmer Fi Connell won gold in the 200 IM with a school record and NCAA B standard time of 2 minutes, 1.29 seconds while sophomore swimmer Emma Lowther and junior diver Kristy Ardavanis each had a second place finish to lead NAU on the second day of the WAC Swimming & Diving Championships. The Lumberjacks remain in second place in the team standings but are now just one point behind leader San Jose State.

San Jose State has the overall lead with 236 points, with NAU just behind at 235 followed by Hawaii (203), Nevada (147) and Idaho (130). NAU has two gold medals thus far, winning the 800 free relay and 200 IM, as well as two second-place finishes through two of four days of competition at the conference meet.

"Putting four people in the 500 final was big for us and defines our program right now," said head coach Andy Johns. "Emma's 500 swim was really great, and for Fi to win a 200 IM championship shows how great a competitor she is. The divers were great as well and it was a total team effort, but we still have a long way to go. We're excited for tomorrow and to be where we are team wise is better than we expected and we just have to keep going."

After posting the fastest 200 IM prelim time in 2:02.53, Connell took more than a second off that time to win the final and claim her third-career program record. Sophomore Rachel Palmer was close behind in fourth place at 2:02.67 and sophomore Stirling Smith was eighth in the consolation final as three Lumberjacks scored in the event. Sophomore Jordan Burnes recorded the fourth best prelim time at 2:04.15 but is not scoring in the event.

"It was pretty incredible to win and break the school record," said Connell. "I never expected the 200 IM to be an event I would win at a conference championship; it just shows amazing our program is. It's a great start of individual racing not only for me but for the rest of the team."

Four of the eight spots in the 500 freestyle final were filled by Lumberjacks, with sophomore Emma Lowther placing second overall with an NCAA B standard time of 4:47.34, the second fastest time in program history. Freshman Caitlin Wright placed fourth for the Lumberjacks at 4:54.45 while senior Krista Maier was fifth and senior Kristin Jones was seventh as NAU dominated the event throughout the day.

Ardavanis was second in the 1-meter diving prelims and remained in second after the final, totaling 301.65 to finish just 3.65 points behind first. Senior Holly Frost also advanced to the final and finished seventh at 270.60, while senior Cassie Anderson, sophomore Gwen Smithberg and freshman Kali Lents made the consolation final, with Anderson placing 13th overall and Smithberg finishing 15th.

In the other individual swimming event for the day, the 50 free, senior Chalene Dirks-Ryan advanced to the B final and placed 13th overall with a final time of 23.86, the fifth-best time in program history. The 200 free relay was the only team event of the day, and the NAU quartet of Connell, Dirks-Ryan, Palmer, and junior Kelsey Loy placed fourth in 1:34.50 after two teams were disqualified for early starts. Connell's 50 free lead split of 23.60 was the third-fastest time in program history.

NAU had three of the top-four 200 IM times, three of the top-five 500 free times, and two of the top-five 50 free times in program history on Thursday.

The championship meet continues Friday with preliminaries opening at 10 a.m. Arizona time and finals to take place at 5:30 p.m. Arizona time.

Team Rankings - Through Event 204

1. San Jose State 236

2. Northern Arizona 235

3. Hawaii 203

4. Nevada 147

5. Idaho 130

6. New Mexico State 116

7. Fresno State 108

8. North Dakota 84