FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona swimming and diving jumps right into the 2010-11 season with three meets in its first week of competition starting with the Vandal Relays on Thursday, Nov. 11. With another strong schedule this season, the Lumberjacks look to build upon their fifth place finish in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championships.
"I think the focus for us is going to be more on individual accountability and improvement," said head coach Andy Johns. "If everyone takes care of their business and gets better collectively we will have a good result. "We have such a wide range of talent, ability, and experience that really it is somewhat easier to focus on individual achievement than team to start with."
NAU returns a core of elite swimmers and divers along with several talented newcomers this fall. The Lumberjacks welcome back 18 letter winners including 17 All-WAC selections and sophomore NCAA "B" qualifier Fi Connell. A native of Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia, Connell won the both individual backstroke events and became the first multiple winner for NAU at a championship meet since Emily Simon in 2004.
In addition to Connell, the swimming team brings back senior Claire Ferro, junior Kristin Jones, and sophomore Jaclyn Branning, all three of whom were All-WAC performers a season ago. Branning and Jones earned seventh place finishes in the 200 breaststroke and 1,650 freestyle, respectively, while Ferro was part of the Lumberjacks' third place 400 medley relay.
The diving team produced nine All-WAC honors, the second most of any WAC team last season at the championship meet. Senior Taryn Harris and freshman Ardavanis earned medals for the Lumberjacks. Harris won a silver medal on the 1-meter springboard and Ardavanis collected a bronze medal on the 3-meter.
The Lumberjacks' also return seniors Lana Christensen and Megan Collier who qualified along with Harris and Ardavanis at the NCAA Regional Zone Championships. Harris and Collier placed 12th and 16th on 1-meter while Christensen and Ardavanis
"I am very excited for our team," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "We have a lot of leadership and veterans. For the last couple of years I have been talk about how young, and now we are a little older, so the experience will be great. The divers have been good about making every week count and know they need to start going now. I think they are excited that this could be their year. They are training hard and ready to see what they can do this year."
Along with a loaded squad of veterans, Head Coach Andy Johns and Diving Coach Nikki Huffman brought in eight freshmen to add depth and compete for immediate time in the NAU lineup. The group is highlighted by three overseas standouts: Jordan Burnes, Emma Lowther, and Rachel Palmer. In the Lumberjacks' annual Blue vs. Gold meet, Burnes and Lowther earned first-place finishes while Palmer picked up a third-place result.
The Lumberjacks finished second at the championship meet two season ago, and the 2010-11 team is motivated to finish among the league's best. The Lumberjacks will be tested immediately with three meets in three days this weekend.
In addition to this week's competition, the Lumberjacks face a series of quality opponents throughout the 2010-11 season. NAU hosts Boise State and New Mexico on Nov. 20 and Dec. 4. The team travels to Arizona State on Dec. 18 and the regular season with a pair of double duals against Arizona and Oregon State and UNLV and UC Santa Barbara.