FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In their final big showcase before the WAC Championships next month, the Northern Arizona divers will compete in the Air Force Diving Invitational this Friday and Saturday at the Air Force Academy's Cadet Natatorium. The Lumberjacks will be one of 16 participating schools, including three other Western Athletic Conference opponents in Idaho, New Mexico State and Northern Colorado.
"This weekend is a great meet for many reasons especially because of the platform (diving)," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "It's also great because it's run in a conference format with prelims and finals and there are a lot of divers; there will probably be double the divers than we'll see at conference. It will give us a lot of great competition and this will be our last meet to try out some new dives to see how they get judged. It will help us to see if that's where we want to go or if we want to play it a little safer with more consistent dives."
Huffman will lead her group of five divers – seniors Gwen Smithberg and Jane Wakefield, sophomores Chelsea Jackson and Carlye Townsend and freshman Alexa Geiger – into a challenging field that will not only feature their fellow WAC competition but also divers from BYU, San Diego State and Texas A&M among others.
This week's invitational will be the second diving-exclusive meet that the Lumberjack divers will compete in this season. In November, they competed at the Wildcat Diving Invite in Tucson, Ariz. where they posted solid results in spite of inclement weather. Smithberg grabbed NAU's top finish of the three-day invite, finishing fourth on platform, while Jackson finished seventh on 3-meter, and 10th on both 1-meter and platform.
The Lumberjacks went back to Tucson for the team's double-dual against Arizona and Oregon State where they dove against UA and New Mexico State. The meet was a complete success as Jackson placed first on 1-meter leading four Lumberjacks – Smithberg (third), Geiger (fourth) and Townsend (sixth) – in the top-six. On 3-meter, Jackson was the runner-up while Smithberg and Geiger placed fifth and sixth respectively.
"We're feeling good but we're still working hard," Huffman said. "We're trying to get to the point where we're on autopilot, but we're not quite there yet. We're trying to fine tune some things and I think they're excited with where they are at. We're expecting great things."
The AFA Diving Invitational, which will also feature men's diving as well, will start for the Lumberjack women at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning with 1-meter preliminaries. The 1-meter finals will then start at 12:30 p.m. before concluding with platform Friday night at 6:05 p.m. They will then return on Saturday with 3-meter preliminaries at 11:25 a.m. and 3-meter finals at 2:25 p.m.
At last year's invitational at Air Force, former Lumberjack Kristy Ardavanis claimed first on the 1-meter boards while Smithberg placed fourth on platform with a score of 222.50, which broke the school-record at the time. Smithberg would go on to shatter that mark at the WAC Championships with a score of 261.10.