Photos Courtesy of Don Elmore
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The Northern Arizona swimming & diving team maintained their spot atop the leaderboard, albeit by a small margin, at the WAC Swimming & Diving Championships following a successful night session to cap off the second day of competition. With 273 points, the Lumberjacks are six points ahead of Idaho halfway through the four-day meet and placed six athletes in the top-five of Thursday's individual events.
"I think our girls did a great job of moving up especially our divers and in the 200 IM and 50 freestyle," said head coach Andy Johns. "They all moved up from where they were after the morning (preliminaries) and that's all about racing and scoring points. As we thought, it's a battle. Six points is real tight. That's the way it's going to be the last two days."
As expected heading in to the conference championships, the Lumberjacks dominated the 500 free placing three swimmers in the championship final. After qualifying third in the morning, senior Emma Lowther continued her momentum from Wednesday night's anchor leg in the 800 free relay with a runner-up finish in the 500 free. Her time of 4:51.28 paced three Lumberjacks in the top-eight as sophomore Kendall Brown finished fifth – a spot higher than her preliminary seeding – with a time of 4:54.53 and junior Caitlin Wright finished seventh with a time of 4:58.54. Add in freshman Kathryn Palomino who finished 11th overall, moving up three spots in the 'B' final, and the Lumberjacks took care of business in the first individual distance event of the meet.
In the 200 IM, the Lumberjacks' senior experience was on display as all three of their senior swimmers in the scoring heats finished higher than where they finished the preliminaries. Jordan Burnes came up less than five-tenths of a second from her career-best time on her way to a bronze medal finish with a time of 2:02.65. Burnes moved up a spot from fourth after prelims and Rachel Palmer jumped three spots to finish fifth overall with a time of 2:03.68. Stirling Smith swam in the 'B' final and picked up valuable points by finishing 12th, three spots higher than her 15th-best prelim time, to notch a career-best time of 2:04.76 and improve seven spots from last year's WAC Championships.
Junior Alexis Juergens held steady in the 50 free, earning a 13th place finish with a time of 23.93, but the largest leap of the day came from sophomore Alex Huff. One year after finishing 21st in the event and one preliminary swim after just sneaking into the top-16, Huff came up big for the Lumberjacks by winning the 'B' final with a time of 23.93 that not only set a new lifetime-best but earned her a ninth-place overall finish.
Finally the Lumberjack divers continued their superb showing at this year's WAC Championships with a convincing performance in the 3-meter springboard finals. NAU placed three divers in the top-eight of Wednesday's 1-meter event and on Thursday, it bettered that with sophomore Chelsea Jackson, freshman Alexa Geiger and sophomore Carlye Townsend occupying half of the top-six. Jackson took home her second third-place finish of the meet with a season-best score of 315.85. Geiger notched a fourth-place finish with a season-best score of 310.15 and Townsend continued the trend by finishing sixth with a score of 274.95.
The night ended with the 200 freestyle relay and the NAU quartet of Juergens, Huff, freshman Jori Lindquist and Lowther finished sixth overall with a time of 1:35.08.
"We swam better tonight than we did this morning and it took a day and a half to really get ready," Johns said. "We have to be ready come tomorrow morning to do it all over again."
Friday's schedule will bring the first butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke events into the picture. In addition to the 100 fly, 100 breast and 100 back, the events will also include the 400 IM and the 200 free. The divers will have the day off before competing on platform on Saturday and the night will conclude with the 400 medley relay. Preliminaries start at 9 a.m. MST and finals begin at 5 p.m. MST. For updates throughout the day, check out NAU Athletics on Facebook and @NAUSwimDive on Twitter.
1. Northern Arizona - 273
2. Idaho - 267
3. New Mexico State - 204
4. CSU Bakersfield - 196
5. Grand Canyon - 182
6. North Dakota - 169
7. Northern Colorado - 124
8. Seattle - 68