Photo (L-R): Danielle Palbykin, Fi Connell, Kelsey Loy, Kristy Ardavanis
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU swimming and diving team looks to complete an undefeated home season at 11 a.m. Saturday when it hosts Colorado State in Wall Aquatic Center. The Lumberjacks are 3-0 in home duals this year and will honor their four graduating seniors – Kristy Ardavanis, Fi Connell, Kelsey Loy, and Danielle Palbykin – during their final home meet.
"It's going to be a tough meet; I expect some great swims and they have some quality divers so I think we'll be challenged," NAU head coach Andy Johns said. "We're looking forward to showcasing our seniors and our girls always seem to get excited about swimming at home. It should be a great last home meet to get ready for conference."
The Lumberjacks haven't competed at home since Dec. 1 when they scored a 176-116 win over New Mexico State. NAU also has home dual wins over Arizona State and Northern Colorado and has spent the last month and a half training in South Florida, Tucson, and Flagstaff while competing against elite competition from Northwestern, Arizona, and Oregon State in preparation for Saturday's meet and the WAC Championships at the end of February.
"Coming up to the WAC we're starting to perfect a few things; turns and dives become really important," said junior swimmer Rachel Palmer on the Lumberjacks Weekly podcast. "It would be really great to send (the seniors) off with a big win against CSU. They're really tough competition – probably the hardest we've had up here – so I would love to see us win this."
The four Lumberjack seniors have accomplished great things throughout their careers and have continued to perform well this season. The quartet has contributed to NAU's record breaking WAC Championship performances over the last two seasons and has been a part of five program records and six all-time top-five individual performances.
"It's a bittersweet feeling," said Palbykin, who placed in three events at the WAC Championships last season and is the current Co-President of NAU's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). "It's sad that it will be the last time swimming in a home meet in my college career but I'm hoping for a good end to a great four years."
Among the top divers in the WAC during her career, Ardavanis has totaled eight WAC Diver of the Week awards over the last two years. She is a three-time All-WAC first team honoree and also earned an All-WAC second team honor, and she has the second highest 1-meter and 3-meter scores in program history.
"It's been a long four years but it's been fun," Ardavanis said. "I'm getting ready to wrap it all up and go out with a bang. I'm so glad I decided to do collegiate diving and I've had a great experience here."
Loy and Connell were both members of NAU's school record 200 medley relay team at the WAC Championships last season. Loy has been among the team's top sprinters and backstrokers during her career and advanced to multiple finals at the conference meet in each of her last two seasons.
"I'm excited for Saturday; we've been training really well and the team we're facing is really good so it will be fun," Loy said. "(Swimming at NAU) has been a great opportunity and experience and I don't have any regrets."
Connell is the school record holder in the 100 back, 200 back, and 200 individual medley and is part of two program relay records. She has won five WAC championships and has won the 200 backstroke conference title in each of her first three seasons as a Lumberjack. She is also a three-time CollegeSwimming.com Mid-Major All-American.
"I'm excited to get out here and race for the last time in Flagstaff," Connell said. "I've been thinking about all the success we've had here and how it's become a pool of comfort. This is the last meet and the last time to show Flagstaff what we can do."
"They're all so different and so unique but they've been good leaders for our team not just this year but in years past," said Johns of his senior class. "Obviously Kristy and Fi have won a lot of accolades but Kelsey and Danielle are just as deserving of recognition. They're a great group of girls and they will be missed."
Admission for Saturday's meet in Wall Aquatic Center is FREE.