HOUSTON, Texas. – It is a crowded pack at the top of the leaderboard, but one thing is for certain – the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team will go into the final day of the WAC Championships with the advantage. Junior Alina Staffeldt clinched NAU's fifth gold medal of the meet Friday night and the divers concluded another solid team performance at the CRWC Natatorium, helping the Lumberjacks to remain atop the standings.
NAU paces the field with 462.5 points, but Idaho has its eyes on the 'Jacks in second with 428 points. New Mexico State (380 points) and Grand Canyon (367) are also lurking in third and fourth respectively.
"Alina was the highlight of the night for us, and aside from that we had a few bumps in the road," said head coach Andy Johns. "The quality of the competition is high and everyone is raising their game. Our divers have done an amazing job in staking us to this lead that we're in and now we have to rally and hang on. We knew it was going to be just like this going into the meet."
Staffeldt reclaimed her conference championship in the 100 butterfly, posting a finals time of 54.06, which is a season-best. Staffeldt qualified with the fastest time in the prelims and held in the evening to earn her third individual WAC gold medal of her career. She won the 100 fly as a freshman before being dethroned in a silver medal finish last year, but is once again the conference champ.
The NAU divers concluded their portion of the meet on the platform tower, and for the third straight night had all five of their divers in scoring positions. Sophomore Tanya Kurach led three Lumberjacks in the final, finishing as the bronze medalist with a season-best score of 212.40. Sophomore Christina Torrente was one spot behind with a career-best score of 209.85 and sophomore Raquel Gonzales wound up in sixth with a score of 201.30.
"We had a really solid prelims again," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "Lex and Olivia were very consistent in consoles. Tanya had a great day moving up to third and Christina missed one dive, but still did great to finish in fourth. Rocky started off on fire, but then she missed two. She came back though with two amazing dives and that was important for her to feel good about what she was doing."
The evening session began sophomore Sarah Takach recording important points in the 400 individual medley with her career-best time of 4:28.71 good for seventh overall. She lowered her entry time by about four and a half seconds to earn her first career all-conference honor in her first 'A' final race.
After the 100 fly, in which sophomore Andrea Schmidt complemented Staffeldt's golden performance by winning the consolation final with a career-best time of 56.10, the duo of juniors Kimmy Richter and Claire Hammond stepped up to the plate yet again.
Richter and Hammond took fourth and sixth respectively in the 200 freestyle with times of 1:50.18 and 1:50.69, then handed the baton to senior Urte Kazakeviciute in the 100 breaststroke. There, Kazakeviciute recorded her second career-best time of the day – after doing so in the morning prelims – to place third and earn the bronze. She clocked a finals time of 1:02.23 to spearhead two 'Jacks in the finals. Freshman Emily Martin recorded her first conference scoring effort by placing 13th overall in the consolation.
Senior Sara Lenhoff competed in the night's final individual swimming event as she tied for fifth in the 100 backstroke with a time of 56.00. She then led off the Lumberjacks' 400 medley relay team which also included Kazakeviciute, Richter and junior Roni Houck to cap the night. NAU placed sixth in the relay with a time of 3:45.56, dropping its entry time by a second and a half.
Prelims for the 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke and 200 butterfly will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Freshman Erin Spielman will compete in the mile freestyle at 2:20 p.m. with the final showdown starting at 5 p.m. All times are local to Flagstaff.