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2016-17 NAU Swimming & Diving Season Outlook

Left to Right: Sara Lenhoff, Alexa Geiger, Urte Kazakeviciute
Left to Right: Sara Lenhoff, Alexa Geiger, Urte Kazakeviciute

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -  Gone are a total of 346 points of the Northern Arizona swimming & diving's 2016 WAC Championship point total of 807.5. That equates to roughly 42.8 percent of NAU's championship production that will be missing entering the 2016-17 season.

Yet, do not expect the three-time defending conference champions to be deterred.

"We lost a lot and we're young and our depth is thin at some spots," said head coach Andy Johns. "But we have great leadership with our senior class and our junior class is outstanding. Our newcomers are stepping right in and contributing right away."

A lot will be different with the 'Jacks this season, but with senior Alexa Geiger - the reigning WAC Diver of the Year - returning for her final season along with classmates Urte Kazakeviciute and Sara Lenhoff - who have combined for 20 all-conference honors - NAU will be led by an accomplished senior class.

The Lumberjacks also have the luxury of a junior class featuring Claire Hammond, Roni Houck, Audrey Mann, Kimmy Richter and Alina Staffeldt who combined for a whopping 263.5 points at the conference meet this past March. Add in sophomore diver Raquel Gonzales, who was the only Lumberjack to qualify for the top eight in all three diving events, and NAU might not be in as bad shape as it may appear.

"We still have a great diving squad and a lot of top end talent here that can help us," Johns said. "I believe we can still be a pretty good team."

There is no doubt that this year's roster is full of fresh faces with nine newcomers among the 24-member squad, but the Lumberjacks are planning on a retool rather than a rebuild.

An intense schedule featuring the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Oregon State and Washington State plus a swimming invitational to the Kansas Classic and NAU's first ever Diving Invitational will prepare the team for the end of February.

While many teams may shy away from such challenges, the 'Jacks will embrace them. The schedule will help them identify where the missing points will come from at the WAC Championships; and if all goes according to plan, the WAC trophy's trip back to Flagstaff for the fourth time may be the sweetest of all.

FREESTYLE

"From the 50 to the mile, our freestylers are solid. We have a good mix of returners and newcomers. Roni Houck and Alina Staffeldt are leading the way in the 50 with Andrea Schmidt in the mix as well after scoring points at the conference meet. Fernanda Montiel, Allison Mann and Logan Neal will also add to that list and that same group moves up into the 100 where Claire Hammond starts to come into play. Claire and Kimmy Richter return in the 200 and as we move up further, Kimmy and Monique King will handle the longer distance races. Monique has a ton of accolades coming in from New Zealand, but Erin Spielman and Alice Hick will have shots to contribute especially at the 200 distance." - Johns

  • Houck and Staffeldt will lead the team's sprint freestyle crew. Houck is a two-time WAC bronze medalist in the 50 free and has also finished fourth in the 100 free as a freshman. Houck holds the fifth-best time in school history in the 50 free of 23.20.
  • Staffeldt is one spot ahead of Houck on the school leaderboard with a time of 23.15, which she clocked in the WAC prelims last season to eventually place fourth in the event.
  • At the 100 and 200 distances, Hammond is the team's top returner following an eighth-place finish in the 100 and a third-place finish in the 200 at the conference championships last season. Her times career-best times, both of which were set last season, in the 100 (50.94) and the 200 (1:49.39) both rank among the top five in NAU's all-time performances.
  • Hammond, the WAC runner-up in the 500 free, will be joined by Kimmy Richter following her own fourth-place conference finish in the event last season. Richter also place fifth in the 200 free and will be counted on to continue the Lumberjacks' strong tradition in the mile. Richter was the silver medalist behind only NAU alum Kendall Brown in 2016 in the 1,650 free.
  • Sophomore Andrea Schmidt could make a big leap as part of NAU's sprint crew following a 10th place finish in the 50 in her fist season. Junior Allison Mann and sophomore Logan Neal could also be counted on in the 50 and 100 among the team's returners.
  • After one year at Massey University in her home country of New Zealand, sophomore Monique King is a potential big addition for the Lumberjacks. King, the winner of the team's Pentathlon this season, could especially make an impact in the distance events after impressive performances at the 2015 World University Games.
  • Freshman Fernanda Montiel won gold in the 50 and 100 free at the Circuito Mexicano de Natacion meet this year is an addition to the sprint team. Freshmen Alice Hick and Erin Spielman were Arizona state qualifiers in the 100 and 200 during their prep careers.

BACKSTROKE

"Sara Lenhoff is the leader and she shows up big at the conference meet. We're going to look at Allison Mann to fill in here and she has the capability to do that. Fernanda Montiel is our newcomer in the backstroke and she has had some nice development in the last year. Last year, this was an area of depth for us and this year we're a little thinner, but we'll put up three great swimmers in dual meets and at the end of the year we'll be right there too." - Johns

  • Lenhoff looks to finally get over the hump in her final season after a series of near-misses for WAC gold over her career. Lenhoff has a second and a pair of fourth-place finishes in the 200 back, and a pair of third-place finishes and a seventh-place finish in the 100. She ranks second in both events all-time with times of 55.55 in the 100 and 1:59.26 in the 200.
  • As the only other Lumberjack with conference championship meet experience in the backstroke, Allison Mann is a big piece to the puzzle. Mann swam in the C final in both backstroke events as a freshman.
  • Montiel will also be counted on early in her career in the backstroke. She was a bronze medalist in both the 100 and 200 backstroke at the 2016 Circuito Mexicano de Natacion as well the 2015 Olimpiada Nacional.
  • While she has competed in the backstroke at the conference championships, Hammond will aid the Lumberjacks in this area during the dual meet season.

BREASTSTROKE

"Urte Kazakeviciute has been swimming on our relays and was third in the 200 and fourth in the 100. She's right there at the top of the conference with some (NCAA) 'B' cuts, so hopefully she can reach into NCAA consideration. Audrey Mann is a solid breaststroker as well as Sarah Takach and our newcomer Emily Martin. All three of them have the potential to score in both breaststrokes at the conference meet and they're good training partners for each other." - Johns

  • Like Lenhoff, senior Urte Kazakeviciute has been on the cusp of individual WAC superiority. Kazakeviciute has earned medals in the 200 breaststroke in each of her three years, in addition to consecutive fourth-place finishes in the 100. Also similar to Lenhoff, Kazakeviciute ranks second all-time in program history in both events - 1:02.47 in the 100 and 2:13.73 in the 200.
  • Audrey Mann was a first time WAC Championship point scorer last season and placed 12th in the 100 breast. She also swam in the C final of the 200, posting career-best times in both events.
  • Sophomore Sarah Takach is another name that NAU will rely on this season with a relative lack of championship experience. Takach will hope to follow Mann's path with a significant jump in her second season.
  • The Lumberjacks' lone breaststroke newcomer is freshman Emily Martin, who placed fourth as a senior in the 100 breaststroke at the Arizona State Championships.

BUTTERFLY

"The big deal for Alina Staffeldt is finding the tenths of seconds to put her into the NCAA Championships. Andrea Schmidt was a top eight finalist in the 200 and a consolation swimmer in the 100, so we're hoping she can make it to the top eight in the 100 as well. Kimmy Richter is solid in season and any time we need her to do a butterfly event, she'll be there. I like what I've been seeing out of Allison Baldwin and Kate Bier during this first month and we're going to be depending on them to fill in some spots." - Johns

  • Staffeldt is NAU's most accomplished swimmer, as she begins her third season as the defending WAC 200 butterfly champion. Staffeldt broke the school record with a time of 1:57.66 in winning her second career gold medal following her 100 butterfly victory as a freshman. She also owns the 100 fly school record, lowering her own record mark to 53.83 in a second-place finish last season.
  • NAU will complement Staffeldt with Schmidt after placing eighth in the 200 fly at last year's WAC Championships. Schmidt also reached the B final and posted a 14th-place finish in the 100.
  • Freshman Kate Bier joins the 'Jacks as a four-time First Team swimmer in the 100 fly as a prep in Oregon. She is joined by fellow freshman Allison Baldwin, who was a two-time Southwestern League 100 fly and four-time CIF qualifier in California.
  • Richter is an exceptional dual meet butterflier and does have championship experience in both butterfly events. As a freshman, Richter placed eighth in the 200.

INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY

"We're thin in the IMs, especially in the 400. Audrey Mann can handle it and Sarah Takach will have to do. Kate Bier and Monique King showed some ability to help us out here too (in the Pentathlon). Dual meets will be a different story than the conference meet, but the Kansas Classic will be a nice opportunity for some to swim the IMs and help us figure a few things out." - Johns

  • The Lumberjacks lost their top individual medley swimmers from a year ago, and will be looking at Audrey Mann first and foremost to carry the IM initially. Mann did finish 13th in the 200 IM last year, and was the Pentathlon runner-up this year, but has not swam the 400 IM at the conference meet.
  • Takach is the only other 'Jack listed on the roster as an IM swimmer and did earn a night swim in the 200 IM C final last season. Like Mann, she is more of a 200 IM specialist as compared to the 400.
  • King could be an individual medley swimmer in the making after winning the Pentathlon. On her way to the meet title, she finished second in the 200m IM. Bier had a similar impressive showing as she placed fourth overall with a fourth-place finish in the 200m IM.

RELAYS

"Our entire 200 medley relay returns and we're in good position in both medley relays at the end of the year. The 800 freestyle relay looks as good as last year, and we have a lot more swimmers to draw from for the 400 freestyle relay. The 200 freestyle relay is where we lost the most." - Johns

  • Last year, the Lumberjacks started off the WAC Championships in grand fashion winning the 200 medley relay for the first time since 1988. All four members of NAU's gold medal 200 medley relay team return in Lenhoff, Kazakeviciute, Staffeldt and Houck, who posted a time of 1:41.45.
  • NAU also won gold in the 200 freestyle relay, posting a school record time of 1:31.58, but only return half of the team - Staffeldt and Houck. It was the first 200 free relay win for the 'Jacks since 1997.
  • Richter, Hammond and Staffeldt return as part of NAU's silver medal 800 freestyle team.
  • In the 400 medley relay, Kazakeviciute, Staffeldt and Hammond are back with Lenhoff the most likely replacement on the opening backstroke leg.
  • Finally in the 400 freestyle relay on the final day of the conference meet, Houck and Hammond consist of half of NAU's team from a year ago.

DIVING

"I'm really excited about our team. Alexa Geiger won both springboards last year and just missed NCAAs, but she trained really hard this summer and I think she's going to have a great season. Christina Torrente and Raquel Gonzales, I can't say enough about those two. Even in the first two weeks, their leadership and poise is showing as sophomores. Tanya Kurach comes in and will help us immediately to replace what we've lost. Even Olivia Payne brings in a lot of experience and I'm excited for both of them as additions to the team." - Diving Coach Nikki Huffman

  • Geiger leads the WAC's top diving unit, coming off conference Diver of the Year honors. Geiger earned the top award after sweeping both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboards at last season's WAC Championships. She posted career-best scores of 302.30 on 1-meter and 322.05 on 3-meter en route to winning her first career gold medals. Both of those scores place her fifth in NAU's record books. She just missed the NCAA Championships by placing 12th on 1-meter at the NCAA Zone E Diving Championships.
  • The depth of NAU's diving team showed as sophomore Raquel Gonzales was the only diver to rack up three all-conference honors by placing in the top eight in all three events as a freshman. Gonzales, the platform specialist, finished fourth on tower but showed her talent on springboard by placing fifth on 3-meter and eighth on 1-meter. She also qualified for the NCAA Zone Championships and already ranks third all-time in school history on platform with a score of 227.50.
  • Sophomore Christina Torrente is the third and final returning Lumberjack diver following a season that also ended with a Zone Diving appearance. Torrente won the consolation final and placed ninth overall on 1-meter and also placed 13th on platform in her debut season.
  • The Lumberjacks will add a pair of sophomore transfers into the mix and both come in with high credentials. Tanya Kurach enters NAU after one year at Henderson State, where she became the program's first female NCAA All-American diver by placing eighth at the NCAA Division II Championships last season. She also placed ninth on 3-meter and set an NCAA Division II record on 1-meter at the New South Intercollegiate Swimming Conference Championships.
  • Olivia Payne is NAU's second transfer, who joins the program after spending her freshman season at the University of Utah. At Utah, she competed in seven meets including appearances on platform and 3-meter at the Pac-12 Championships.