HOUSTON, Texas. – Behind junior Kimmy Richter and senior Alexa Geiger's gold medal performances on Thursday, the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team is halfway home to victory at the WAC Championships in the CRWC Natatorium in Houston. The Lumberjacks briefly lost their lead, but regained it by the end of the night as they doubled their advantage over Idaho with 284 points to the Vandals' 242 heading into the third day of competition tomorrow.
"Our junior class really did a great job tonight," said head coach Andy Johns. "Kimmy's (500 freestyle) swim was just about perfect and Claire (Hammond) had a great race too. Roni (Houck) winning the consolation in the 50 free and Alina (Staffeldt) was awesome in setting a lifetime-best. Those were big swims and then we went one-two in diving. Tomorrow has a lot of good events for us and it's going to be a battle all the way through."
Richter collected her first career individual gold medal at the conference meet by turning in a career-best time of 4:51.24 in the finals. She took control of the race in the final 100 yards and pulled away to retain her spot as the favorite. She ranked second in the conference going in before clocking the fastest preliminary time in the morning of 4:52.90 – which in itself was a career-best before lowering it in the final.
Junior Claire Hammond finished second behind Richter in the preliminary and wound up in fifth overall in the final with a time of 4:55.01 to help get the Lumberjacks off on the right foot.
Meanwhile on the 1-meter springboard, Geiger responded from a mishap on Wednesday which played a huge role in her ninth-place 3-meter finish in the biggest way possible – by besting the entire field on Thursday. The reigning WAC Diver of the Year successfully defended her 1-meter crown with a winning score of 276.95. The win was her third career WAC gold medal.
Geiger was just half of NAU's one-two sweep of the top of the podium with sophomore Christina Torrente recording her highest career WAC finish as the runner-up. She improved prelim score by over 30 points to finish right behind Geiger to claim her first career medal with a finals score of 274.85. Sophomore Tanya Kurach placed seventh overall allowing NAU to take three of the top eight spots.
"Today, as a group we looked a lot better in prelims," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "Lex getting the win was huge and so was Christina getting second. They all did a great job and they're all scoring big points (for the team). I'm so proud of every one of them."
In the 200 individual medley, sophomore Sarah Takach stepped up huge with a personal-best herself of 2:05.03 to score at the conference meet for the first time in her career. She led a pair of Lumberjack swimmers in the top 16 with junior Audrey Mann snagging the final scoring spot with a time of 2:08.52.
Junior Alina Staffeldt highlighted the night's final individual race with a narrow silver medal finish in the 50 free. In setting a new career-best time of 23.11 – now placing her third in school history – she helped stem the tide for the Lumberjacks after they momentarily lost the team lead. Junior Roni Houck won the consolation final with a time of 23.40 to place ninth overall and sophomore Andrea Schmidt was two spots behind in 11th with a time of 23.74.
The evening concluded with the Lumberjacks picking up their third medal in as many relay races in the 200 freestyle relay. NAU's squad of Staffeldt, Schmidt, freshman Fernanda Montiel and Houck garnered bronze medalist honors with a season-best time of 1:33.85.
Friday's preliminary morning session will start at 9:30 a.m. Arizona time with qualifying heats of the 400 IM, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 100 backstroke. The final diving event on platform will begin its prelims at 11:45 a.m. Arizona time. The evening session will then start at 5 p.m. Arizona time with a video stream available at this link.
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