Photos Courtesy of Jeff Huehn (left) and Kelsey Metoxen (right)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – All four NAU divers scored in the first of three diving events this week and the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team capped off a solid first day at the WAC Championships with a thrilling third-place finish in the 800 freestyle relay. The Lumberjacks finished Thursday's competition at the Palo Alto College Aquatic Center squared up atop the scoreboard with Idaho with 106 points.
"Obviously we like being at the top of the leaderboard right now but there is a whole lot of swimming and diving left," said head coach Andy Johns. "It's good to get the first session out of the way and we're looking forward to see everyone race tomorrow. This is a good sign of things to come after what we saw tonight."
The 800 freestyle relay was the night's finale and it was a thriller for the Lumberjacks. With CSU Bakersfield blazing its way to first, the rest of the field was left to battle for second. NAU found itself in sixth after the first two legs of the relay before senior Rachel Palmer pulled NAU within two-tenths of a second of third after her third leg. Senior Emma Lowther finished off the Lumberjacks' rally with an incredible final split to put NAU on the podium with a final time of 7:24.66, more than 16 seconds faster than its seeded-time. Junior Caitlin Wright and freshman Kathryn Palomino swam the first two legs of NAU's bronze medal 800 free relay team.
"Rachel and Emma have been solid members of that relay for several years now and we felt good about how they were going to compete," Johns said of his New Zealand senior duo. "Call them the Kiwi Express. They've been teammates for a long time and that relay was a good sign of what we're going to see from them over the next couple of days."
The day began with preliminaries for 1-meter diving and the Lumberjacks made a splash. Sophomore Chelsea Jackson led three NAU divers in the top-eight after prelims with the top qualifying score of 295.25. Sophomore Caryle Townsend and freshman Alexa Geiger joined her placing seventh and eighth respectively. Meanwhile, senior Jane Wakefield nabbed the final qualifying spot in the consolation finals, finishing 16th and ensuring that she would score for the Lumberjacks for the first time in her career. Wakefield would move up two spots to finish 14th overall with a consolation score of 204.55.
In the night final, Jackson improved on her preliminary score but fell two spots finishing third overall on the 1-meter springboard. Jackson posted a final score of 302.50, just shy of her career-best score of 303.15 set earlier this season at home versus New Mexico, and earned her second consecutive third-place finish on 1-meter at the WAC Championships. Geiger made the biggest jump for the Lumberjacks, placing fifth overall with a score of 278.95 while Townsend finished eighth with a score of 245.10.
"It was a very solid day for the divers to have three in the top-eight and all four divers score," said diving coach Nikki Huffman. "Carlye has never made the top-eight and Jane has never scored before so both of those were improvements. Lexi was fifth as a freshman and that's awesome and even though Chelsea was third, she dove great being 10 points out of first and bettered her score from last year by 50 points."
To begin the swimming portion of Wednesday's night session, the Lumberjacks earned a fourth-place finish in the 200 medley relay. Freshman Sara Lenhoff, senior Jordan Burnes, junior Alexis Juergens and freshman Jori Lindquist posted NAU's season-best time of 1:42.19, over four seconds faster than its previous best, and just missed getting onto the podium for the event.
Swimming time trials for the Lumberjacks and recording lifetime-best times were sophomore Monica Pruett (1:05.69 – 100 breaststroke), sophomore Lindsay Clark-Warren (58.02 – 100 backstroke), senior Becky Russell (58.20 – 100 butterfly) and sophomore Trinity Frazee (51.55 – 100 freestyle). Senior Andrea Derflinger and freshman Urte Kazakeviciute swam time trials in the 50 fly and 50 breaststroke respectively.
Day two of the WAC Championships will begin with preliminaries for the 500 free, 200 individual medley, 50 free and 3-meter diving at 9 a.m. MST on Thursday. Finals for the four individual events plus the 200 free relay will start at 5 p.m. MST. For updates throughout the day, tune to NAU Athletics on Facebook and @NAUSwimDive on Twitter.
1. Northern Arizona - 106
1. Idaho - 106
3. New Mexico State - 99
4. Grand Canyon - 74
5. Northern Colorado - 71
6. CSU Bakersfield - 69
7. North Dakota - 58
8. Seattle - 44