FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Following two intersquad meets and a win over Arizona State in a unique relay meet the NAU swimming & diving team will face New Mexico at 11 a.m. Arizona time Saturday in its first road competition of the season. Saturday will be the 25th all-time meeting between NAU and New Mexico with the all-time dual record between the teams even at 12-12, though they have not faced each other since meeting twice in 2008.
"It's been a while since we've been there but we always like going out there," NAU head coach Andy Johns said. "They've got a new coach and it's their first home meet so we can't have a letdown. We're excited to get on the road and face our first full dual meet of the year."
NAU won three of six events vs. Arizona State, taking the 200 medley relay, 300 backstroke relay, and 300 breaststroke relay, and earning more secondary points to defeat the Sun Devils for the first time in program history. Junior Jordan Burnes and redshirt freshman Alex Huff were both part of two winning relays as NAU faced ASU a day after the team's annual Blue-Gold meet.
That event featured a sweep of the diving events by senior Kristy Ardavanis and two wins from junior swimmer Rachel Palmer as the teams tied in the final event, the 200 free relay, and the Gold team topped the Blue team by a single point. New Mexico opened its season with a 167-141 win at Air Force on Oct. 5.
The Lumberjacks return 17 letter winners with four CollegeSwimming.com Mid-Major All-Americans this year in Burnes, Palmer, senior Fi Connell and junior Emma Lowther and will be led on the diving boards by Ardavanis after she was All-WAC first team on both 1-meter and 3-meter last season. A complete 2012-13 season preview and event breakdown follows:
2012-13 Preview/Event Breakdown
"We've added lot of depth to every spot on our squad," Johns said. "We've gone from a pretty shallow squad in some events to a fairly deep squad everywhere. That's what's really nice everywhere. We're excited about the year; we want to defend the 800 free relay title and get a medley relay win as well. It's going to be a great meet at the end of the year"
"We're going to look at a lot of results during our dual season and people will be fighting for a lot of spots," Johns added. "We like the competitiveness that we've already been seeing. We've been deep before without having the quality we have now at the top end, so this is a nice mix of our four returning mid-major All-Americans and some swimmers that had great breakthrough swims last year to give that depth behind them along with a very strong freshman class."
NAU returns significant experience in both the sprint and distance freestyle events. Senior Kelsey Loy is the top returning sprinter after she helped NAU set a program record in the 200 medley relay with her 50 free leg last season. She will be joined in sprints by junior Becky Russell coming off an injury-shortened season and several newcomers including Ellie Morrissey, Halle Wilson, Molly Elkins, Cassie Ronai, and Trinity Frazee.
Junior Emma Lowther should lead the team in the 200 and longer freestyle events after she set a program record in the 200 free last season and had top-3 all-time finishes in the 500 and 1650 free. The CollegeSwimming.com Mid-Major All-American will be joined in distance events by sophomore Caitlin Wright, who also had top-five times last year in the 500 and 1650 free and was named NAU's female Newcomer of the Year, as well as newcomers Kendall Brown and Eva Pold. Alex Huff, who redshirted her freshman season last year due to injury, as well as sophomore Meagan Morrison and senior Danielle Palbykin will also be key contributors among NAU's freestyle squad.
Senior Fi Connell, a three time Mid-Major All-American, will look to cap her outstanding collegiate career by building on her program record times in the 100 and 200 backstroke and reaching the NCAA Championships. She has won the 200 back WAC title in each of her three seasons and will look to claim a second 100 back title this season. Junior Ashani Gottlieb returns after posting the fifth fastest 200 back time in program history last season and junior Rachel Palmer also brings plenty of experience on both backstroke events. Freshman Brooke Brittain is also expected to be a contributor in the events along with Huff and newcomers Frazee and Wilson.
2012 Mid-Major All-American Jordan Burnes and fellow junior Stirling Smith provide a dynamic pair at the top of the returning Lumberjack breaststrokers. Burnes won the WAC 100 breast title last season with a program record and NCAA "B" time and also posted the third fastest time in the 200 breast. Smith also made the top-five list with her 200 breast time at WAC championship and will also contribute, along with Burnes, in relay events. Freshman Monica Pruett will also be a strong scorer in breaststroke events and has already begun to push NAU's returners in practice. Morrison and sophomore Emily Lewandowski add experience to the breaststroke group while Ronai will also add depth to the event.
Palmer, the 2011-12 NAU female athlete of the year and a CollegeSwimming.com Mid-Major All-American, won the 200 butterfly WAC Championship with a school record and NCAA "B" time of 1:58.82 – more than three seconds faster than the previous program record. She will look to lower that time to ascend to her first NCAA championship this season while leading the team in the 200 fly along with returning junior Andrea Derflinger. Sophomore Alexis Juergens was NAU's leader in the 100 fly at the 2012 WAC Championships in posting the fifth fastest time in program history and will be aided by newcomers Elkins and Morrissey in the sprint butterfly event. Russell, Brown, and others will also contribute to a deep group of butterfly swimmers.
Connell and Palmer set program records in the 200 and 400 individual medleys, respectively, at the 2012 WAC Championships. Palmer also posted the fourth fastest 200 IM time in program history and Burnes also had top-four all-time finishes in both events. The trio should once again lead the squad in both the individual and team medley events while Smith will also provide experience in the 200 event. Freshmen Pruett, Brown and Pold will be expected to contribute, especially in the 400 IM, as the team has no shortage of swimmers who can compete at a high level across several events.
An All-WAC first team honoree on both 1-meter and 3-meter a year ago, senior Kristy Ardavanis returns as the unquestioned leader of the NAU diving team. Ardavanis finished second on 1-meter and fourth on 3-meter at the 2012 WAC Championships and competed on both boards at the NCAA Zone Diving Regional. She earned Verizon WAC Diver of the Week honors five times in 2011-12 and will look to end her superb NAU career with a pair of WAC titles. The Lumberjacks also return junior Gwen Smithberg, who last year in her first season at NAU scored the fourth highest platform score in program history, as well as sophomore Katie Dallmann and junior Jane Wakefield, both of whom will look to build off their experience into scoring positions at the conference meet. The returners will be joined by two newcomers, including Flagstaff native and Northland Prep graduate Chelsea Jackson. Carlye Townsend also joins the team after leading her AAU diving team to the 2011 national championship, as Nikki Huffman's squad once again looks to be the premiere diving program in the Western Athletic Conference.