FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Four Northern Arizona University student-athletes were recognized among their graduating peers Tuesday night with the prestigious Gold Axe Award. Andrea Derflinger, Emma Lowther and Stirling Smith of the swimming & diving team and Jim Herrero of the football team received the Gold Axe Award for the 2014 spring semester for their achievements on and off the field and their service to the university as well as the community.
The Gold Axe Award is a tribute to outstanding academic performance, leadership and service to the community. With this semester's four honorees, the NAU Athletics Department has now produced 37 Gold Axe winners since 2004.
Derflinger, a native of Anthem, Ariz. will graduate in May with a double major in psychology and criminology & criminal justice. She owns the fourth fastest 200 butterfly time in program history (2:02.28) and posted her best finish at this year's WAC Championships. In the 200 butterfly, Derflinger placed fifth overall with a time of 2:03.66 to earn her second career All-WAC second team honor. A four-time Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete and three-time WAC All-Academic selection, Derflinger currently sports a 3.45 GPA and has been active in passing on her knowledge in the pool to others. She serves as an instructor as both a private swim instructor and water safety instructor at Flagstaff Athletic Club, the Wall Aquatic Center and the Anthem Community Center, working with infants and toddlers all the way to older adults. Derflinger has also acted as treasurer for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Club at NAU.
"It is a huge honor and I wasn't expecting to get it when I applied," Derflinger said. "It makes everything worth it. I put in so much time in athletics and academics as well, so to be recognized for that is awesome. It's really exciting all the way around and this type of award will help me as I head into grad school."
Lowther will graduate with a degree in health sciences – public health in May to cap off her impressive career both in and out of the pool at NAU. She will leave as the school record holder in the 200 freestyle (1:48.26) in addition to the second-fastest times in the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly and the fourth-fastest time in the 1,650 freestyle. The native of Cockle Bay, New Zealand is also a member of the school record 400 and 800 freestyle relay teams. This season, Lowther was the silver medalist in the 500 free and the mile at the WAC Championships while also swimming the anchor leg of the bronze medal winning 800 free relay team, pushing her total up to 14 career WAC medals. The two-time CollegeSwimming.com Mid-Major All-American and 15-time All-WAC honoree has been recognized for her academic work all four years as a WAC All-Academic selection and Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete. Lowther, owner of a 3.78 GPA, will also be recognized as the Distinguished Senior of the Year for the Health Sciences and Department and Public Health program and is the president of the College Health Education Club (CHEC) and is a certified peer educator to give presentations on various health topics.
"Coming here that I had the idea that I would swim well so the focus was on swimming because that was important to me," Lowther said. "I realized very quickly that academics and community service was just as important, so I got involved in CHEC. Realizing that I could become an all-around person at NAU is very special to me and I'm proud to be a part of a program that thinks that becoming well-rounded is important."
Smith of Stoughton, Wis. received her Gold Axe Award on the same day in which she was named NAU's Female Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The breaststroker from Stoughton, Wis. had her best season this year earning her first career medal – the bronze in the 200 breaststroke – at the WAC Championships in addition to placing fourth in the 100 breaststroke and 12th in the 200 IM with lifetime-best times in all three events. Smith finished her swimming career with three All-WAC honors and will leave with career-best times of 1:03.07 in the 100 breast and 2:16.39 in the 200 breast, good for second and fourth all-time in the NAU record books. She was named a WAC All-Academic selection and Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete all four years while carrying a GPA of 3.96. Smith currently volunteers at Flagstaff Medical Center and has served on the NAU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee the last three years. She also served as a student-athlete representative on the Gender Equity and Student-Athlete Well-Being Committee for two years.
"Winning the Gold Axe, along with my teammates Andrea and Emma, is a good representation of how strong and motivated our senior class was on the swim team," Smith said. "We were all motivated by each other's energy athletically and in the classroom. We all pushed each other to be the best that we could be."
Herrero is the football team's first Gold Axe recipient since 2011 and has done exceptional work off the field. Herrero appeared in four games this season and earned two starts against UC Davis and South Dakota. He was named the team's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2012 and has been a valuable member of NAU's offensive line during his career. Off the field, Herrero has been stellar as he was named to the Dean's List every semester. With a 3.94 GPA, Herrero is a three-time Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete and AD Honor Roll honoree. He is also active in the outdoor community, serving as the Vice President of the NAU Bass Fishing club and he is a member of the Coconino Trail Riders. The Kingman, Ariz. native has volunteered with Outdoor Experience for All and Hunt of a Lifetime, giving opportunity to disable children and adults to enjoy the outdoors. On campus, he is a member of the Exercise Science club and is a Teacher's Assistant for the statistics program and biology department. Herrero will graduate with a degree in exercise science in May and has been accepted into Physical Therapy school for the fall.
"It feels great to win a very prestigious award that wraps up my career at NAU," Herrero said. "It symbolizes all the things I've been able to do and accomplish through the help of the athletic department and the academic department and everybody else at NAU."
The tradition of the Gold Axe Award dates back to 1933, a year after the student body adopted the axe as the symbol for Lumberjack athletics. It was then that NAU adopted the tradition of awarding small gold axe pins to outstanding members of the student body. The gold axe pin is still considered the official emblem of the Associated Students of NAU and is presented to recognize students' outstanding achievements and distinguished service to the university and the greater community.