Photos Courtesy of Peter Vives
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Headlined by silver medal finishes by sophomore Kendall Brown in the 400 IM and senior Jordan Burnes in the 100 breaststroke, the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team had their best day in San Antonio so far this week on Friday, placing 10 swimmers in the top-eight of the five individual events. Behind their superb showing on day three, the Lumberjacks will head into the final day of competition with a 476-457 lead over Idaho at the WAC Swimming & Diving Championships.
"We had contributions from every where and that's the way it's been all year long and that's what we're going to need tomorrow," said head coach Andy Johns. "We're up 19 points and it's going to be a battle. Tomorrow's morning session is going to go a long way in determining what tomorrow night will look like. We just have to do our job tomorrow morning, just like we've been doing."
Friday morning's preliminaries, set the Lumberjacks up well for the night finals as they placed 13 swimmers into scoring heats for a total of 14 entries with freshman Caitlin Baker qualifying for the 'B' finals in both the 400 IM and the 100 breast.
Burnes turned in a school-record swim in her 100 breast preliminary, breaking her own school record with a time of 1:01.94, and entered the finals with the fastest prelim time. Burnes could not capture the gold in the finals, but her finals time of 1:02.52 earned her a silver medal improving on last year's bronze medal finish. Brown also improved on her third-place finish in the 400 IM at last year's conference meet by one spot, earning silver in the event with a time of 4:18.46. Burnes and Brown both captured the team's first NCAA B standard times of the season in their respective events.
The 100 breast and 400 IM turned out to be stellar events for the Lumberjacks as they placed a trio of swimmers in the top-eight in each event. Behind Burnes in the 100 breaststroke were senior Stirling Smith and freshman Urte Kazakeviciute. Smith posted a lifetime-best time of 1:03.07 to finish fourth and Kazakeviciute finished fifth with a time of 1:03.20. The breaststroke trio finished the night with the top-three spots on NAU's all-time top performances list in the event.
In the 400 IM, senior Rachel Palmer and sophomore Monica Pruett swam in the championship heat along with Brown. For the second consecutive year, Palmer claimed a fourth-place finish with a time of 4:23.20 while Pruett earned her first top-eight finish of her career, finishing seventh with a career-best time of 4:27.61.
The Lumberjacks came up big in the 100 backstroke, placing two in the top-five in the event. Freshman Sara Lenhoff took home the bronze following a time of 55.77, which she later bested with a time of 55.55 swimming the lead leg of the 400 medley relay, for her first career medal. Sophomore Alex Huff, coming off a tremendous swim to win the 50 freestyle 'B' final on Thursday, captured fifth overall, her first top-five finish, with a time of 56.04. Freshman Jori Lindquist added to NAU's 100 backstroke coup with a time of 57.69 to finish 10th.
Senior Emma Lowther finished fifth in the 200 freestyle, her third top-five finish at this year's WAC Championships, with a time of 1:49.36 and junior Caitlin Wright won the 'B' final to finish ninth overall with a time of 1:51.67. Junior Alexis Juergens competed in the championship heat of the 100 fly and moved into third all-time in the school records with a career-best time of 55.38 en route to a sixth-place finish. Baker jumped five spots from the preliminaries to the finals to finish 10th overall in the 400 IM with a time of 4:25.72 to go along with a 14th-place finish in the 100 breast with a time of 1:04.70, both of which were season-best times.
NAU's 400 medley relay team of Lenhoff, Burnes, Palmer and Lowther finished fourth in the night's final event with a time of 3:43.84, slicing the team's season-best time by nearly seven seconds.
Even without a first-place finish in an event through three days, the Lumberjacks' depth as propelled them to a first-place standing as a team with one day remaining.
"Our depth has been everything," Johns said. "It's very possible that we could win a conference championship without winning an event. It's not about one swimmer in one event, it's about all 16 of our scoring swimmers and all four of our divers competing tomorrow. They've got a resolve that has been there all year and we're going to need it tomorrow."
The Lumberjacks look to finish strong and bring back the program's first-ever WAC championship on Saturday. On tap on the final day will be the 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly, 1650 free and platform diving with the final event of the meet coming down to the 400 free relay. Preliminaries for all individual events aside from the 1650 free will start at 9 a.m. MST. The mile will be contested at 2:30 p.m. MST and the night finals will start at 5 p.m. MST.
1. Northern Arizona - 476
2. Idaho - 457
3. New Mexico State - 353
4. CSU Bakersfield - 308
4. Grand Canyon - 308
6. North Dakota - 261
7. Northern Colorado - 219
8. Seattle - 112