FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's swimming and diving team will begin its 2011-12 campaign by hosting the 16th annual intersquad pentathlon on Friday at 2 p.m. with free admission in Wall Aquatic Center. All 18 swimmers on the Lumberjack roster will compete in the five events (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle) with four heats for each event. NAU also has eight divers on the 2011-12 roster that will see their first action in the Blue/Gold meet on October 7.
"The pentathlon is way for the returners get a chance to see where they are compared to last year and for the freshman to get their first taste of having to compete rather than just practice," said head coach Andy Johns. "It's a tough meet; its five events in about an hour, so it's a great training session. It's a good way to transition from practice into competition and to give the athletes a bit of a break from the grind of daily practice."
Each swimmer will score and accumulate points based on their times for each event, similar to the decathlon in track and field. The event is the first of three intersquad meets to begin the season, with the annual Blue/Gold meet to follow on October 7 and the alumni meet to take place October 21 as the Lumberjacks prepare for the dual season.
"Overall I think we have a really good balance of seniors and returning swimmers that have experience and know how to compete," added Johns. "We also have some freshmen that we expect to do well and improve to help us try to win a championship come February. We're in a good spot to be balanced and deep, and that's what it takes to win."
The following is a breakdown of the 2011-12 season for each swimming event and diving:
Leading the group of returning freestyle swimmers will be sophomore Emma Lowther, who earned All-WAC first team honors in the 1650 free and All-WAC second team honors in the 500 free last season. Senior Krista Maier was also All-WAC second team in the 500 and 1650 freestyle last season, while seniors Chalene Dirks-Ryan and Kristin Jones have also had significant success in freestyle events. Junior Kelsey Loy paced the team in sprint events last year, leading the team in the 50 free and scoring well in the 100 and 200 free. Freshmen Alex Huff, Alexis Juergens, Meagan Morrison and Caitlin Wright, among others, will also be expected to contend in mid and distance freestyle events this season
Junior Fi Connell, the NAU all-time record holder in the 100 back and 200 back and a three-time WAC champion, will look to build on her superb sophomore season in 2011-12. Sophomore Rachel Palmer was an All-WAC second team selection in the 200 back last season, challenging Connell atop the team leader board in the backstroke events, while Dirks-Ryan also fared well in the 200 back. Sophomore Ashani Gottlieb, who swam in both the 100 and 200 backstroke at the WAC Championships in 2011, and Huff will also be expected to contend for All-WAC honors this season.
A pair of breaststroke specialist return in 2011-12, led by Australian junior Jordan Burnes, who earned All-WAC second team honors with a fourth place finish in the 200 breast at the WAC Championships last season. Burnes also led the team in the 100 breast, while sophomore Stirling Smith advanced to consolation finals in both events last season. Joining Burnes and Smith in the breaststroke this season will be a pair of freshman, including Morrison, a graduate of Flagstaff High. Emily Lewandowski, who finished in the top-eight of Arizona in the 100 breast three times in high school, will also look to lead the team in the breaststroke this season.
The Lumberjacks return a school record holder in the butterfly with Lowther, who broke the program record in the 200 fly last season and was an All-WAC second team selection. Palmer was also a strong butterfly swimmer as a freshman in 2010-11, while sophomore Andrea Derflinger swam in both the 100 and 200 fly at the WAC Championships. Newcomer Becky Russell will specialize in the 100 fly, while freshmen Wright and Alexis Juergens will add to a deep group of butterfly swimmers.
Connell, who finished third and was an All-WAC first team selection in the 200 IM last season, and Palmer, who was an All-WAC second team selection in the 400 IM, return to lead NAU in the medley events. Burnes and Smith also specialize in the 200, while Burnes, Jones and Lowther have fared well in the 400 IM. Several of the newcomers to the team may also contribute in the medley events as the season progresses.
The NAU diving team, led by 16th year diving coach Nikki Huffman, looks to maintain its high level of competition after losing three outstanding seniors following the 2010-11 season. NCAA Zone qualifiers Lana Christensen, Megan Collier and Taryn Harris all graduated in the spring, but Huffman does return three other divers that advanced to the NCAA Zones last year. Kristy Ardavanis enters her junior season as the Lumberjacks top returner after placing in the top-eight in the WAC and qualifying for Zones in each of her first two seasons as a Lumberjack. A pair of seniors return in Cassie Anderson and Holly Frost after both have been three-year contributors and have competed in the WAC Championships and NCAA Zones.
Sophomores Tori Braudaway and Jane Wakefield, who both redshirted last season but dove in the Blue/Gold meet, will look to step into starting roles this season and improve upon their technique. The Lumberjacks also add a trio of newcomers, including former high school gymnastics state champion and junior college transfer Gwen Smithberg. A pair of talented freshmen in Kali Lents and Katie Dallmann, the sister of NAU volleyball junior Kelli Dallmann, will also compete for spots in the six-diver rotation this season.
"It would be impossible to replace the great divers we lost, but I expect some great things again this season," said Huffman. "We have a big group again and we hope to be well represented again at Zones and have our divers compete for the NCAA Championships. I think our program is set up for divers to improve, to compete well, and to be in a good position to challenge at the end of the season."