From Left to Right: Alina Staffeldt, Kimberly Richter, Emma Simmonds
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona swimming & diving team took another step towards filling the void left by its decorated graduated senior class with the addition of three incoming freshmen who signed their National Letters of Intent during the spring signing period. The Lumberjacks received commitments from a pair of international swimmers and an elite diver from California to further reload their WAC Championship squad heading into the fall.
"I'm really excited about this class," said head coach Andy Johns. "These three athletes are good compliments to the group we signed in the fall. They'll be hard pressed to do what the group that we lost was able to do, but this class gives us solid, quality depth. We had a few holes last year and we may have a few holes next year, but we'll be good in different ways and in different events. We're excited about the group of girls coming in to help us defend the title."
NAU's diving unit will take a hit with the graduation of Gwen Smithberg and Jane Wakefield, but the Lumberjacks add an important piece to their contingent in Emma Simmonds out of Castaic, Calif. Simmonds was a four-year letterwinner and two-year team captain at West Ranch High School where she enjoyed an accomplished prep career. Simmonds was a three-time CIF diver and became the first diver at her high school to win the league championship, an accomplishment she achieved twice in her career along with a runner-up finish. She was a three-time Scholar Athlete Award recipient for her work in the classroom and also ran on the cross country team for three years.
"Emma will be able to score points for us right off the bat," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "She comes from a really good program – Rose Bowl Aquatics – where one of her coaches, Hunter Shafer, was an NAU alum. It'll be nice to get her here and she is a great talent. I think Emma can be scoring in the top-eight (at the WAC Championships) in two years just like Carlye Townsend did this year."
The Lumberjack distance crew lost one of the program's all-time greats in Emma Lowther, but they found a fellow swimmer from New Zealand to ease the loss. Kimberly Richter will join the Lumberjacks out of Howick College, the same prep school as Lowther, and will have the opportunity to contribute in the freestyle distance events immediately. The Papakura, Auckland product holds multiple regional county records and was a National Age Group swimming medalist with best times of 2:05.5 in the 200 free, 4:19.6 in the 400 free and 8:54.8 in the 800 free while also swimming the 100 and 200 butterfly events. In 2012, she was part of the women's 4x200m freestyle relay silver medal team at the New Zealand Open Championships with Lowther.
"Kimmy is going to step in and help out in the more distance-oriented freestyle events and she could see some 200 fly swims during the season," Johns said. "She is coming from the same club team as Emma and Rachel (Palmer), so we have a strong connection there and we're excited to have another swimmer from Auckland joining the squad."
To help their sprint crew, the Lumberjacks will add Alina Staffeldt to the roster. Staffeldt, out of Hannover, Germany, will improve the team's depth in the butterfly events and join Alexis Juergens who earned two top-eight finishes at the WAC Championships. She holds the SGS Hannover Swim Club long course and short course records in the 50 fly, 100 fly and 200 fly as well as the 50 fly short course record in Lower Saxony. Most recently, last month Staffeldt placed eighth in the 100 fly at the German National meet.
"Alina is a sprinter in the butterfly and freestyle, so with Alexis and even (fall signee) Samm Crocker, we've gotten stronger in the sprint events which should help our relays," Johns said. "We think we got a good one in her. She's kind of like Andrea Derflinger, but she's better at the sprints whereas Andrea was better at the 200."
The three additions bring the total up to eight NAU signees with Crocker (Des Peres, Mo.), Claire Hammond (Roseville, Calif.), Melanie Harris (Henderson, Nev.) and Allison and Audrey Mann (Phoenix, Ariz.) from the fall signing period.