SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Northern Arizona earned WAC titles in the 1650 freestyle, 100 freestyle, and platform diving to make a late charge in the team standings but San Jose State held on to narrowly win the WAC Swimming & Diving Championship by just seven points with NAU taking second.
San Jose State had a winning total of 695 points for the meet while NAU was second totaling 688 points and Denver finished third at 631.5. The Lumberjacks finished second at the WAC title for the fourth time over the last six seasons and nearly won the meet after the Spartans were disqualified from the final event, the 400 freestyle relay, after they had appeared to win the race.
After the meet NAU diving coach Nikki Huffman was named the WAC Diving Coach of the Year and freshman Ellie Morrissey, who medaled in each of her three individual events and in three relays, was named the WAC Freshman of the Year.
"After (San Jose State) had been disqualified it was like 'we might have won!', but we just came up a little short," NAU head coach Andy Johns said. "It was a great finish to a great week. Our girls rallied and put up a pretty strong fight. It was an all-around battle and had we happened to have found eight more points and would have been the champs that would have been ok, but we're really proud of their efforts all year long and especially this week."
The Lumberjacks trailed the Spartans by 39 points going into the final event and earned 32 points after finishing third in the really but, despite not scoring in the event, San Jose State had just enough of a margin to hang on for the title. The NAU quartet of senior Kelsey Loy, junior Emma Lowther, sophomore Caitlin Wright, and Morrissey did break the school record with a time of 3 minutes, 23.85 seconds to break the previous school record of 3:24.62 set in 2009.
NAU opened the evening by taking three of the top four spots in the 1650 free, led by a first place finish by freshman Kendall Brown in 16 minutes, 31.73 seconds, the third fastest time in program history. Wright placed third in 16:41.68 – just .68 seconds back of second place – while Lowther was fourth as NAU dominated the event.
After earning individual silver and bronze medals already this week, Morrissey broke the program record in the 100 free twice on Saturday and earned her first individual gold. After posting a meet-best 49.61 time in the prelims to break the school record Morrissey touched in 49.22 in the final, recording an NCAA 'B' time and rebreaking the original program record 50.77 set by Rachel Foe in 2009. Loy also scored in the event as she finished seventh in the consolation final.
"This meet was really great; everyone fed off of each other's energy," Morrissey said. "Going into my freshman year I had no idea what I was getting myself into so I'm really glad how the season turned out. I'm not disappointed that we got second; I think we worked really hard for everything that we got and I'm really excited about how we finished."
John's felt that Morrissey's Freshman of the Year honor was most deserved after her record-breaking week.
"Every coach on the deck was talking about her," he said. "After she did that 200 IM – 50 freestyle double in 15 minutes they were astounded. We knew she had talent but she amazes us every time she swims and she really loves to race."
On the diving boards Junior Gwen Smithberg shattered her own NAU school record on platform, scoring 261.10 to easily win gold and top her own school record on the board of 222.50 set earlier this year. Freshman Chelsea Jackson finished fifth on platform and senior Kristy Ardavanis was sixth. Freshman Carlye Townsend qualified for the platform consolation final where she finished third with a 176.40 total to place 11th overall.
"It feels surreal – I can't even believe that happened. It's so humbling," Smithberg said. "I had some really good thoughts going into the competition and having Kristy and Chelsea there with me was really encouraging and reassuring. We had an amazing journey this year and we tried to fight back so hard and got so close and I think everybody did everything that they could. I'm just so blessed to be part of this team."
In addition to Smithberg's platform gold, the NAU divers also earned gold and silver on 1-meter and silver on 3-meter, as the high scoring trio of Smithberg, Jackson, and Ardavanis enabled Huffman to earn the top diving coach honor.
"I think Nikki's deserved that award for a lot of years but hadn't gotten it, so she deserves it and I'm really proud of her and everything she does with the divers," said Johns.
"I really think it's because of all of them," said Huffman of the award. "They just did such a great job and put it all together. When your divers do well they may reward the coach, so I'm just really proud of all of them and they just really rocked. "
Junior Jordan Burnes made up more than three seconds between her prelim and final times in the 200 breaststroke to record a school record and NCAA 'B' time of 2:14.13. Burnes finished second while surpassing the previous school record of 2:16.02 set by Danielle Filipp in 2009 while junior Stirling Smith placed 8th overall and freshman Monica Pruett finished third in the consolation final and 11th overall.
Fi Connell medaled for the fourth time in her career in the 200 backstroke, winning bronze with an NCAA 'B' time of 1:57.38. Junior Ashani Gottlieb advanced to the consolation, where she placed sixth and 14th overall in 2:02.32.
In the 200 butterfly junior Rachel Palmer finished just outside of a medal, placing fourth in 2:00.24. The Lumberjacks dominated the consolation final in the event, as junior Andrea Derflinger placed second in 2:02.54 followed by freshman Eva Pold in third and sophomore Alexis Juergens in fourth.
In all NAU totaled five titles for the WAC championship meet with 10 school records and eight NCAA 'B' times. The team recorded 20 top-three finishes overall and will wait to see if those swimmers that recorded NCAA 'B' times – Brown, Burnes, Connell, Palmer, and Morrissey – will advance to the NCAA Championships.
Ardavanis, Jackson, and Smithberg will compete at the NCAA Zone E Diving Championship March 14-16 at the Air Force Academy, hoping to qualify for the NCAA Championships themselves.
Final WAC Championship Standings
1. San Jose State – 695
2. Northern Arizona - 688
3. Denver – 631.5
4. Idaho - 409
5. New Mexico State – 331.5
6. Northern Colorado - 289
7. North Dakota - 230
8. CSU Bakersfield - 188
9. Seattle - 144