Nikki Huffman begins her 21st year at the helm of the Northern Arizona diving program, a squad that she has consistently led to the NCAA Zone Diving Championships. A four-time National Independent Conference (NIC) Diving Coach of the Year and three-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Coach of the Year, Huffman now takes her team into their 13th year of WAC competition, a league which boasts some of the top divers in the country.
Over the last 20 years, NAU has not had less than two divers who have competed at the NCAA Zone Championships under Huffman’s leadership. In all, Huffman has coached 29 different divers to the zone diving meet on the women's side, a number that is double the amount who represented NAU prior to Huffman's arrival. With Huffman’s guidance, NAU has routinely proven to be equal competitors with those from the Pac-12, Mountain West and Big West on the regional stage.
While success on the boards has been prominent in describing Huffman, her charges have also been superior in the classroom. The divers have helped the Lumberjacks be named an Academic All-America Team by the Collegiate Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) numerous times - an honor given to a team with a grade-point average of 3.00 and higher. She has coached two NAU Golden Eagle Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year (Courtney McKenzie, 2002-03; Chelsea Jackson, 2015-16), two CoSIDA Academic All-District honorees (McKenzie, 2003 First Team; Lana Christensen, 2011 Second Team) and four different student-athletes to CSCAA Honorable Mention Academic All-America honors (Anna Deem, 2003; Alexa Geiger, 2014, 2015; Jackson, 2013, 2014, 2015; McKenzie, 2003).
What has quickly become an annual tradition, the Lumberjack divers made the biggest splash at the WAC Championships earning Huffman the honor of WAC Diving Coach of the Year last season. Huffman’s divers played a critical role in NAU capturing its third consecutive conference championship and were led by junior Alexa Geiger, who was awarded the WAC’s Diver of the Year award. Geiger took home the hardware after winning gold on both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboards, while freshman Raquel Gonzales placed in the top eight in all three diving events. The ’Jacks put their stamp on the meet from the first individual event – placing all six of their divers in scoring positions – and never let up. For the second consecutive year, four divers combined for nine all-conference honors, and the momentum was carried over into the NCAA Zone E Championships where all six divers qualified – matching the most in school history. Senior Chelsea Jackson, a five-time WAC Diver of the Week awardee during the season, narrowly missed her bid to the NCAA Championships by placing 10th at the Zone Meet while Geiger was two spots back in 12th.
At the 2015 WAC Championships, Huffman’s divers were the class of the competition, making their mark on the first day. All four of NAU’s scoring divers - juniors Chelsea Jackson and Carlye Townsend, sophomore Alexa Geiger and freshman Emma Simmonds - all placed in the top eight on 1-meter. After making a statement in the first diving event as a team, the Lumberjacks got their first gold medal of the championship when Jackson claimed the 3-meter title. In all, the Huffman’s four divers accounted for nine all-conference honors, with Jackson and Geiger diving in the championship final in all three events. Huffman also mentored freshman Alyssa Loeffelman to an impressive WAC Championship performance. Although she dove as a non-scorer, Loeffelman’s preliminary scores on both springboards would have been good enough to score points in the finals. Jackson and Geiger proceeded to dive at the NCAA Zone E Meet where Jackson placed 15th on 1-meter and 18th on 3-meter. Both Jackson and Geiger earned WAC Diver of the Week honors during the season, combining for three awards from the conference office.
Huffman's divers were an integral part of NAU's first-ever WAC Championship team in 2013-14 as all four of her divers scored points for the Lumberjacks at the conference meet. Sophomore Chelsea Jackson led the way as she placed third on all three boards to earn three All-WAC first team honors. Huffman also coached senior Jane Wakefield, sophomore Carlye Townsend and freshman Alexa Geiger to breakout performances at the WAC Championships. In her final conference meet, Wakefield scored on 1-meter and platform while Towsend earned a pair of All-WAC second team honors. Meanwhile, Geiger made a sensational debut on the conference stage placing in the top-seven on all three boards. All together, Huffman's divers totaled eight all-conference honors. Jackson, Geiger and senior Gwen Smithberg represented NAU at the NCAA Zone E Meet highlighted by Jackson's 15th place finish on 3-meter. That trio also combined to win four WAC Diver of the Week awards during the regular season.
Huffman earned WAC Diving Coach of the Year in 2012-13 after her trio of divers performed spectacularly at the WAC Championships. Senior Kristy Ardavanis took gold on the 1-meter, NAU's first WAC diving championship since 2008 and first 1-meter WAC title since 2004, and was later followed by junior Gwen Smithberg's victory on the platform. The trio of Ardavanis, Smithberg and freshman Chelsea Jackson combined for four All-WAC first team honors and four All-WAC second team honors before proceeding onto the NCAA Zone meet where Ardavanis finished as an alternate for the national championship meet following a sixth-place finish on the 1-meter. Huffman's guidance of Ardavanis over her four-year career culminated in Ardavanis being voted NAU's Female Athlete of the Year as she left NAU with 10 WAC Diver of the Week honors in her final two seasons as well as the Wall Aquatic Center records on the 1-meter and 3-meter.
NAU placed four divers in the NCAA Zone meet in 2011-12, including All-WAC First Team performer Kristy Ardavanis, who was named Verizon WAC Diver of the Week five times during the regular season. She took the silver on 1-meter and placed fourth on 3-meter to lead NAU at the WAC Championships and posted the second-highest scores in program history on both boards during the season. Seniors Holly Frost and Cassie Anderson and freshman Kali Lents joined Ardavanis as qualifiers for the NCAA Zone meet, and Lents' score of 221.00 on platform at the WAC Championships was the second-best platform score in program history.
The program reached new heights in 2010-11, as the Lumberjacks sent six divers to the NCAA Zone Regional Championships, the most in school history. Senior Lana Christensen was the top finisher posting an 11th-place finish on 3-meter. NAU combined to take home five All-WAC selections, while senior Taryn Harris named WAC Diver of the Week twice and Christensen was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America At Large Team.
Previously, the 2007-08 season was a breakout year for Huffman and her divers, as senior Natalie Hughes became NAU’s first-ever gold-medal winner in diving in the WAC (3-meter) and was named the WAC Diver of the Year. Huffman herself earned her first WAC Diving Coach of the Year Award, sharing the honor with Mike Brown of Hawaii.
In the eight years prior to joining the WAC, the Lumberjacks dominated conference competition in the NIC. NAU won 11 individual conference diving titles in eight years in the NIC women's competition under Huffman's guidance, and earned four conference diver-of-the-year awards (including back-to-back honors by Kate Morgan in 2002 and 2003, and Blair Buder in 2004). Huffman was named the Women's Diving Coach of the Year four times (1997, 2002, 2003, 2004).
A year prior to Harris’ impressive eighth-place finish at the Zone meet, Hughes, who represented NAU all four years of her career, finished seventh on both 1-meter and 3-meter. Danielle Borth was a three-time representative, and placed 10th on the 1-meter and 12th on the platform as a senior. Both divers finished in the top-8 on all three events at the WAC Championships their junior and senior years, with Hughes earning the bronze medal on the 1-meter as a junior and the gold as a senior, and Borth taking bronze on 1-meter and 3-meter as a senior.
Prior to NAU, Huffman spent two years at Clemson, where she was voted the 1996 Atlantic Coast Conference Men's Diving Coach of the Year. With the Tigers, Huffman coached both men's and women's diving teams to winning seasons, with the women's team being ranked in the top-25 of the national coaches' poll in 1996. She had one ACC champion each year and took five divers to the zone meet in 1996.
Huffman began her coaching career at her alma mater, Oakland University. She coached six All-Americans and three Division II national champions, being named Division II National Men's Diving Coach of the Year in 1994. At Oakland, she coached Dario D'Fazio, who represented Venezuela in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics.
As an athlete, Huffman was a seven-time All-America and two-time national champion during her career at Oakland, where she returned every time the NIC Championships were held at the Rochester, Mich., school.
A 1991 graduate of Oakland, the former Nikki Kelsey was married in the summer of 2001. She gave birth to a daughter, Kayla, in the summer of 2003, and to a son, Darren, in the spring of 2005.