Connell, Palmer Win More Titles, NAU Finishes 2nd at WAC Championship

Connell, Palmer Win More Titles, NAU Finishes 2nd at WAC Championship


SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Junior Fi Connell and sophomore Rachel Palmer each won their second WAC championships of the week, NAU dominated the 1650 freestyle with five scorers, and sophomore diver Gwen Smithberg placed sixth on the platform as NAU finished second overall at the 2012 WAC Swimming & Diving Championship. 

San Jose State led for the entire week, finishing first with 728 points. NAU was second with 622 points, followed by Hawaii at 524 and New Mexico State at 429. NAU totaled five WAC titles during the meet and had 11 NCAA B standard times, including three relays. The swimmers also broke eight different school records during the meet, several of which were broken multiple times.

"Tonight was a great finish to the meet, with Fi and Rachel winning and Emma's mile was a great race," head coach Andy Johns said. "We won a lot of heats tonight, and it was just a really good meet for us overall. I'm very proud of all the girls and their efforts this year, and my hat's off to San Jose State which did a great job."

After breaking the 200 fly record previously held by sophomore Emma Lowther in the preliminary round in 1:59.99, Palmer topped herself in the final, winning by more than a second and a half with an NCAA B standard time of 1:58.82. Sophomore Andrea Derflinger also advanced to the final with a preliminary time of 2:04.40 and finished eighth overall, while freshman Caitlin Wright won the consolation final in 2:05.66 and freshman Alexis Juergens placed sixth in the consolation.

Lowther took second in the mile in 16:36.50, the second fastest time in program history. Wright finished third with the fourth best time at 16:44.01, while senior Krista Maier was fifth in 16:59.71. Fellow senior Kristin Jones placed ninth overall and junior Danielle Palbykin was 13th as NAU dominated the event.

"It was exciting to do well in the last meet but it still doesn't quite feel like it's over," said Maier, a four-year swimmer for the Lumberjacks. "It was nice to see all of us do well in the mile and see Caitlin finish so high. All of our training has paid off. It's taken a lot of hard work for me over four years and it's nice to be able to see the payoff."

Connell followed with a win in the 200 back, breaking her own school record with an NCAA B standard time of 1:56.56, her third individual NCAA time of the meet. Sophomore Ashani Gottlieb narrowly missed the final but won the consolation in 2:01.17, the fifth best time in school history.

NAU qualified two divers for the platform final, with Smithberg finishing sixth overall with a final total of 217.10, the third highest platform score in program history. Freshman Kali Lents totaled 221.00 in the prelims, the second best platform score in program history, and finished eighth overall while senior Holly Frost advanced to the consolation final and placed 15th overall.

"I could not be prouder to be a part of this team," said Frost following her final WAC Championship. "I'm leaving a program that is better than when I got here, which is great. I'm excited for zones and to see where it takes us."

Sophomore Jordan Burnes recorded a career-best time of 2:17.55 to place sixth in the 200 breaststroke, while sophomore Stirling Smith touched second in the consolation final in 2:18.44, another top-five time in program history. In the 100 free, senior Chalene Dirks-Ryan finished third in the consolation final in 51.38, the third fastest time in program history.

NAU will have four divers competing in the NCAA Zone meet at the Air Force Academy March 8-10, while the NAU swimmers with B standard times will hope to qualify for the NCAA Championship the following week.