NAU Hosts Arizona and Hawaii on Saturday in Season's First Dual

Raquel Gonzales
Raquel Gonzales

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – On their earliest dual meet start date in program history this Saturday, the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team will host Arizona and Hawaii for a double dual in the Aquatic and Tennis Complex at 11 a.m. The meet – also featuring Arizona and Hawaii's men's teams – is free for all fans to attend.

"Traditionally for us, we start in late October, but it's early for everyone," said head coach Andy Johns. "Arizona is the best team we'll see all year, but we're really excited that they're coming up here for the first time. Hawaii brings another dimension to the meet, and it's a team that we could we can beat if we swim well. It's great to have both teams here and hopefully we can have some good results to start us off on the right foot."

The Lumberjacks, whose previous earliest dual meet debut was Oct. 10, 2008, is coming off their intrasquad Pentathlon two weeks ago. Sophomore Monique King took home the individual title, while juniors Audrey Mann and Kimmy Richter followed in second and third respectively.

NAU also boasts a returning swimming core of seniors Sara Lenhoff and Urte Kazakeviciute and juniors Alina Staffeldt, Claire Hammond and Roni Houck. Meanwhile, the Lumberjack divers will make their season debuts after sitting out the swimming-only Pentathlon. NAU's diving unit is led by senior Alexa Geiger, the 2016 WAC Diver of the Year, and sophomores Raquel Gonzales and Christina Torrente, both of whom were NCAA Zone qualifiers last season.

For the first time as a complete team, NAU will take on Arizona and Hawaii as a relative young and inexperienced squad. Of NAU's roster of 23, nine are newcomers. While fans may not recognize the names at Saturday's meet, the newcomers bring a level of pedigree with them. Freshman Kate Bier placed fourth in the Pentathlon in her NAU debut, while the Lumberjacks' two new divers – sophomores Tanya Kurach and Olivia Payne – are transfers from Henderson State and Utah respectively.

The 'Jacks will need all hands on deck to post victories in Saturday's double dual with Arizona and Hawaii coming off successful seasons. The Wildcats placed fourth in the Pac-12 a season ago and capped the year with a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, the Rainbow Wahine placed second at the MPSF Championships.

While NAU's opposition brings a heavy dose of talent with them, the Lumberjacks will have Flagstaff's elevation on their side. Add in the fact that the trip up to 7,000 feet will be an unfamiliar one for both teams – Arizona will be making its first visit to Flagstaff, while Hawaii will compete at NAU for just the second time ever and first since 1991 – and the Lumberjacks hope to use the altitude to their advantage.

"It's a definite benefit for us to swim at home and at elevation," Johns said. "For some of the shorter events, it may not have as much of an impact on our visitors, but in the longer events and over the course of the event when their swimmers come back for a second, third or fourth event that's where things turn toward our favor. It doesn't completely level the playing field, but we definitely enjoy the home pool advantage."

NAU is winless all-time versus Arizona, with the Wildcats besting the 'Jacks in 21 meetings. Last season, NAU fell to Arizona, 195-96, in Tucson. The Lumberjacks are also 0-3 all-time versus the Rainbow Wahine. NAU and Hawaii last met in 1999, a meet in which the Lumberjacks lost 100-30.

Saturday's women's double dual and men's dual meet will be the first in NAU's new complex. It will also mark the second consecutive year in which an NCAA men's dual meet will take place at NAU following LSU and Wyoming's head-to-head last season.

"We have a great facility to showcase and we're going to have three great teams competing," Johns said. "I'm excited that Arizona and Hawaii's men will be here because it's a great opportunity for the young boys and high schoolers in the community to see them compete."

Saturday will also serve as NAU's cancer awareness meet, as it will be the Lumberjacks' lone home dual meet in October.