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Swimmers Head to Kansas, Diving Hosts Invitational This Weekend

Tanya Kurach and Claire Hammond
Tanya Kurach and Claire Hammond

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona swimming & diving team will get a good look at quality competition this weekend as the team will split up for a pair of multi-day invitationals. At home in the Aquatic and Tennis Complex, the divers will host the Lumberjack Diving Invitational Friday and Saturday, while the swimmers will make the trek to Topeka, Kan. for the Kansas Classic running Friday through Sunday.

Diving coach Nikki Huffman and her divers will welcome five schools to their first in-season home diving invitational. Boise State, San Jose State, San Diego State and Nevada will make the trip to Flagstaff from the Mountain West with WAC rival New Mexico State also joining the contingent of divers.

"To be able to be home and host an invite is huge," Huffman said. "There's a lot of good competition with the Mountain West; and New Mexico State and us have always been rivals. It'll be great to get our first platform competition in and everyone is diving well. We want to put it all out there Friday and Saturday."

NAU's divers have performed more than capably throughout the first month and a half of the season, recording dual meet wins in five of six events thus far. Senior Alexa Geiger and sophomores Christina Torrente and Tanya Kurach have split the five event wins in three dual meets with Geiger and Torrente already being recognized as WAC Divers of the Week. Along with sophomore Raquel Gonzales, the four divers have already earned qualifying scores for the NCAA Zone E Diving Championships – to be held in the Aquatic and Tennis Complex for the second straight year in March – and sophomore Olivia Payne has not been far off putting up her own qualifying mark.

Meanwhile, NAU will make its season debut on the platform tower on Friday. Gonzales should shine there, coming off a fourth-place finish at the WAC Championships as a freshman.

"They're all pushing each other and our entire team sees that they can get to the next level," Huffman said. "They're all learning new dives and perfecting their dives. They push each other and the fact that they keep switching off with wins keeps them competitive. I'm happy with what they're doing and they're staying positive even though this is the time of the season when they're feeling the grind."

As for the Lumberjack swimmers, they will face stiff competition at the Kansas Classic from Iowa State, Nebraska, Arkansas-Little Rock and Northern Iowa along with the host, Kansas. The meet will be important as it will provide the 'Jacks with their first opportunity this season to qualify for evening swims following morning preliminaries – mirroring the conference championships.

"It's a great meet for us with great competition and it's nice to go up against swimmers we know nothing about," said head coach Andy Johns. "The format is great and there will be a lot of opportunities to swim at night. I think we can be competitive and it'll be a great opportunity to get a lot of quality racing."

Juniors Alina Staffeldt, Kimmy Richter, Claire Hammond and Roni Houck have all excelled thus far this season with the four of them combining to win seven events against Idaho on Nov. 4 in their most recent competition. Senior Urte Kazakeviciute also has multiple dual meet event wins this season in the breaststroke and all will look to make a statement this weekend.

"The best thing was our energy and attitude at Idaho," Johns said. "It's been tough for us in recent years to do that back-to-back (with Washington State), so I'm encouraged by where we're headed. Our young team continues to get more experienced and this weekend is going to be a ton of experience for them."

Admission is free for fans to attend the Lumberjack Diving Invite. The 1-meter springboard competition will lead off the meet on Friday at 10:30 a.m. with the platform competition commencing at 4:30 p.m. The divers will return on Saturday for the 3-meter event at 11 a.m.