FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Tied 92-92 through 10 events, the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team won three consecutive events, highlighted by a sweep of the top-three spots in the 200 breaststroke, to pull away late. The Lumberjacks wrapped up their regular season with a 168-125 win over Grand Canyon on Senior Day, sending their nine seniors out with a victory in their final home dual meet of their careers, a meet in which nine new pool records were set.
"I love the seniors so much and I've been looking up to Emma (Lowther) ever since I've got here," said sophomore Kendall Brown, who won two events on Saturday. "I've been training with her the last two years and these seniors are truly the best teammates. I just wanted to send Emma and all of the other seniors off with a win. I wanted to win so bad."
The dual meet in the Wall Aquatic Center was an eventful one from the start as Grand Canyon took the opening 200 medley relay. Brown and senior Emma Lowther followed with a dominating one-two finish for NAU in the 1,500 freestyle as Brown posted a time of 17:09.42 and Lowther clocked in at 17:27.88. Brown's 800 split of 8:59.96 broke the previous 800 free pool record. GCU claimed wins in the next two events – the 200 free and 100 backstroke – and held a slim 38-35 lead through four events. The Lumberjacks were able to hang tough though in large part because freshmen Jori Lindquist and Sara Lenhoff and sophomore Lindsay Clark-Warren claimed the second, third and fourth finishes in the 100 back.
In the first of two breaststroke events on the day, seniors Jordan Burnes, Stirling Smith and freshman Urte Kazakeviciute finished one-two-three that turned the tide in NAU's favor. That would be negated by a one-two-three finish by Grand Canyon in the very next event, the 200 butterfly, as the Antelopes reclaimed a 57-54 lead. The Antelopes proceeded to win the 50 free, 100 free and 200 backstroke to seemingly swing the momentum. But without divers, Grand Canyon lost all of the diving points in the 1-meter event, which sophomore Chelsea Jackson posted a score of 292.95, and the Lumberjacks offset the Antelopes in the 200 back with senior Rachel Palmer, Lenhoff and Lindquist occupying the second, third and fourth spots.
That led to the 92-92 tie and the Lumberjacks broke through in the 200 breast. For the second time, they swept the top-three spots as Smith shattered the Wall Aquatic Center record with a time of 2:34.86 by nearly four seconds. Freshman Caitlin Baker finished second and Kazakeviciute placed third to give NAU a 108-95 lead it never gave back.
"The 200 breast is always a tough race; it's the longest breaststroke event," Smith said. "This year, I've had a lot of fun training with our two freshmen Caitlin and Urte and they've really pushed me to train harder and faster. I give them total credit for taking our entire breaststroke team to the next level and it's really nice to pass this on to the next generation on this team."
The Lumberjacks were only getting started as Brown notched her second win of the day in the 400 free and junior Alexis Juergens secured first in the 100 fly, breaking her own pool record set earlier this season with a time of 1:02.57. Freshman Alexa Geiger smashed her season-best score on 3-meter to finish first with a score of 309.97.
After GCU finished first in the 200 IM to snap NAU's streak, the day wrapped up with a thrilling 400 freestyle relay. Lowther, swimming the first leg of NAU's 'A' team, posted a 100 freestyle split of 57.70 to record the Lumberjacks' fourth pool record of the day, besting GCU's Jovanna Koens who had set the new mark earlier in the day. Behind Lowther's record first leg, the Lumberjacks finished first with a time of 3:55.54 to cap the victory.
"Our seniors, as they have the last four years, were great leaders today," said head coach Andy Johns. "Jordan Burnes and Stirling Smith in the breaststrokes were key and our distance events helped us out a lot. Emma Lowther leading off the last relay really set the tone. I'm so proud of our girls for being in a fight with Grand Canyon who has a lot of quality swimmers. Our girls fought back and it sets us up well for the conference championships."
The meet was the final one in the careers of Burnes, Andrea Derflinger, Ashani Gottlieb, Lowther, Palmer, Becky Russell, Smith, Gwen Smithberg and Jane Wakefield. Senior team manager and former Lumberjack diver Tori Braudaway was also honored during the Senior Day recognition.
The Lumberjacks will now prepare for the WAC Championships in San Antonio, Texas in three weeks. NAU will go after its first WAC title in school history at the conference meet from Feb. 26-March 1.