Photo (L-R): Gwen Smithberg, Kristy Ardavanis, Chelsea Jackson
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Senior Kristy Ardavanis, junior Gwen Smithberg, and freshman Chelsea Jackson will be among a field of 53 of the best female divers in the western region competing Thursday through Saturday for a spot at the NCAA Championships at the NCAA Zone E qualifying meet hosted by the Air Force Academy.
"We're competing among 53 girls but we've seen almost all of their teams this year and we've performed pretty well against them," said NAU diving coach Nikki Huffman, who was named WAC Diving Coach of the Year following the conference meet. "It's one of those meets where you have to do 12 dives pretty much in a row, and if you do all 12 well you can make it, but if you miss one just a little bit you can be sitting outside. It just depends on who's got it going on perfectly that day."
Nine qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships will be available at the meet which includes the best divers from 24 schools from the Pac-12, WAC, Mountain West, West Coast Conference, and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Divers had to achieve qualifying scores during the season to earn entry to the meet. NAU qualified at least three divers for the sixth consecutive year.
The three NAU competitors each earned medals at the 2013 WAC Championships, including conference titles by Ardavanis on 1-meter and Smithberg on platform. Ardavanis will be competing at the meet for the fourth time in her career while Smithberg and Jackson will both compete at the Zone meet for the first time.
Ardavanis earned the WAC title on 1-meter and took home silver on 3-meter two weeks ago at the WAC Championships, earning NAU's first WAC 1-meter title since 2004. She won the 1-meter competition among a field of 46 divers - many of whom will also be competing this week - at the Air Force Diving Invitational earlier this season at the same facility.
"I'm pretty excited," Ardavanis said. "I think we're all going to perform well and we've been there so we're comfortable with the facility. It's whoever has the best day and it really is up to who sticks all their dives, so if I'm sticking my dives I could be up there."
Smithberg shattered her own school record on platform to win gold in the event at the WAC Championships, earning just the fourth WAC platform title in program history. She had previously broken the program record at the Air Force meet in January while finishing fourth on the board while she also had top-five finishes on both 1-meter and 3-meter at the WAC Championships.
"It's my first Zone's so I'm really looking forward to just taking it all in and using this meet for experience," Smithberg said. "I couldn't ask to be there with three more motivational or supportive people; Kristy and Chelsea have been there to support me all year and Nikki has always been great. If I can do what I did at conference and have all the confidence in the world and believe that I can do it I think I'll have a shot."
Jackson earned bronze on 1-meter at the WAC Championships while placing fifth of platform and winning the consolation final on 3-meter. Her platform score was fifth best in program history and she will compete on all three boards in her first Zone meet.
"I just want to go and get the experience so I can see what it's like to compete there," Jackson said. "I think we can all do our best, and if we do what we did at conference we can score really well. I feel like I've gained a lot more confidence and I'm way more excited to compete than I was at the beginning of the year. My excitement now outweighs my nervousness by a lot."
Competition starts Thursday morning with 3-meter followed by 1-meter on Friday and platform on Saturday.