FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team returns to the Aquatic and Tennis Complex this Saturday in their second-to-final home meet of the regular season. The Lumberjacks will host New Mexico State at 11 a.m. in a dual meet between the top two teams at last season's WAC Championships. Admission is free for all fans to attend.
"We're glad to be at home and both squads are coming off invites and a Thanksgiving break," said head coach Andy Johns. "New Mexico State is always a challenge and we always have great meets with them. They've got some strong spots as do we, and it's another great opportunity to compete against a conference opponent. It'll set us up for the end of the semester and the next phase of our season."
New Mexico State finished runner-up to NAU at the conference championships in March, placing a distant second with 488 points to NAU's 807.5. Head-to-head in dual meets, the Lumberjacks have won 26 of the 30 all-time meetings including the last five. Last season, the Lumberjacks thumped the Aggies, 178-122, in Las Cruces.
NAU is coming off successful showings at the Kansas Classic and its own Lumberjack Diving Invitational the week prior to the Thanksgiving weekend. In Kansas, season-best times were recorded up and down the lineup with juniors Alina Staffeldt and Kimmy Richter recording the best overall showings. Both swimmers were named to the Kansas Classic All-Star team as the Lumberjacks' top two point scorers as NAU placed fifth in the highly competitive six-team meet.
Meanwhile, the divers stayed at home and competed against a field of five other teams – including New Mexico State – in their first ever home invitational. Sophomore Raquel Gonzales provided the top highlight by garnering the top spot in the platform event. Gonzales was named the WAC's Diver of the Week as a result.
Looking at the top times within the Western Athletic Conference, Staffeldt and Richter dominate their respective individual events. Staffeldt currently owns the fastest 100 butterfly (54.48) and 200 butterfly (2:00.18) times in the conference with her 100 time already being a NCAA 'B' cut. She also ranks fourth in the 50 freestyle (23.62), just a hundredth of a second behind junior Roni Houck. Richter is currently first in the 500 free (4:55.08), 1000 free (10:16.61) and the mile (17:01.32), while second in the 200 free (1:51.08) and 100 fly (55.77).
Other swimming highlights include senior Urte Kazakeviciute's 200 breaststroke 'B' cut time of 2:14.34, which is second-fastest currently in the WAC, and NAU's standing in the 200 fly at the near-midway point of the season. Behind Staffeldt, sophomore Andrea Schmidt, freshman Kate Bier, Richter and freshman Allison Baldwin all rank in the top eight of the conference.
On the diving side, Gonzales became the third NAU diver to be selected as WAC Diver of the Week joining senior Alexa Geiger and sophomore Christina Torrente. Along with sophomore Tanya Kurach, all four Lumberjack divers have already earned NCAA Zone E qualifying scores on both 1-meter and 3-meter and will look to continue their strong seasons against a quality New Mexico State squad on Saturday.
In three dual meets that the divers have competed in this season, they have claimed five of the six event wins including sweeping the two events each against New Mexico and Idaho.
"New Mexico State is always one of the teams we have to watch out for on the diving side," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "They have a lot of depth and talent. I believe we're stronger, but we've gone through a lot of stuff this year with sickness and injuries. We'll be ready to go though and we're excited to see what our divers can do on Saturday."
The Aggie swimmers went to the Phil Hansel Invitational hosted by Houston two weeks ago and placed 10th out of 11 teams. They are led by Picabo Bender who is first in the 200 free, fourth in the 100 free and second in the 500 free in the conference. Lauren Wood is currently first in the 200 breast with her own NCAA 'B' standard time. Among their divers, MacKinna Hauff was named WAC Diver of the Week earlier this season and placed ninth on both 1-meter and 3-meter at the Lumberjack Diving Invite.
NAU owns a 1-4 record in dual meets this season with its victory coming against Idaho, another conference opponent, on Nov. 4 by a score of 172.5-126.5. New Mexico State is 3-3 and has already competed head-to-head against three WAC teams falling to Grand Canyon and Idaho and defeating Northern Colorado.