The Northern Arizona women and Air Force men took home the 2016 WAC Championship trophies this weekend.
NAU Press Release:
If anyone expected the Northern Arizona swimming & diving team to take it easy on Saturday with a sizeable lead, that was not gonna be the case. Instead, the Lumberjacks won two more events and celebrated their third consecutive Western Athletic Conference Championship in absolute style with the fifth largest margin of victory in conference history. The ‘Jacks posted 807.5 points over the four-day meet, and was 319.5 points better than runner-up New Mexico State who finished with 488.
The Lumberjacks received a bunch of hardware before taking to the podium as a team as head coach Andy Johns was named the WAC Swim Coach of the Year for the third consecutive year. Diving coach Nikki Huffman made it an NAU sweep of the coaching awards as she was named the WAC Diving Coach of the Year. Junior Alexa Geiger, who won two gold medals this week on 1-meter and 3-meter, received the Diver of the Year award. She is the first Lumberjack diver to be named conference Diver of the Year since 2008.
“It is beyond my wildest expectations,” Johns said. “We knew we were pretty good, but across the board, top to bottom, from day one to the last event; we were lights out. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a meet where we were this complete. I give a ton of credit to our girls, our coaching staff, our support staff; everyone who was a part of this deserves a lot of credit. I feel fortunate to coach these group of girls.”
Sophomore Alina Staffeldt provided the punctuation mark on a wire-to-wire team victory with a 200 butterfly victory in which she crushed the previous school record by over a second. Staffeldt won NAU’s seventh event at the meet, setting a new Lumberjack record for most gold medals since joining the WAC in 2004-05. The gold medal was Staffeldt’s second of her career, and her new school record time of 1:57.66 is currently 47th fastest in the country this season putting her within striking range of the NCAA Championships.
“At the start of the season, breaking the record was my goal,” Staffeldt said. “Yesterday was a little disappointing and this morning was my best time. It was an all-out swim and I didn’t think I could go any faster. When I saw my time (tonight), it was an awesome feeling to know that all of my hard work paid off.”
Senior Kendall Brown cruised to a victory in the 1,650 freestyle to start the evening session, posting a season-best time of 16:32.86 in a dominating victory. Brown finished the meet with two of NAU’s seven event victories – she also won the 500 free on Thursday – and finishes her career with four WAC golds. Sophomore Kimmy Richter earned the silver medal behind Brown in the mile, posting a career-best time of 16:48.35 in her highest career individual finish at the conference championships.
The medals did not stop there as senior Chelsea Jackson closed her exceptional conference career with a bronze-medal finish on platform. In the finals, she notched a career-best score of 232.95. The Lumberjacks then closed the meet fittingly with a third-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay as sophomore Roni Houck, senior Trinity Frazee, sophomore Claire Hammond and freshman Ila Hughes clocked a time of 3:24.47 that was eight seconds faster than their entry time.
The ‘Jacks made their most collective noise on the swimming side in the 100 free placing a total of five sprint freestylers in the top 16 scoring spots. Junior Hayley Edmond electrified NAU with a prelim time of 50.41, which immediately jumped into second all-time in school history. Freshman Ila Hughes was not far off as her time of 50.63 not only was the third-fastest during the morning session, but is also the third-fastest in NAU’s history.
Hughes would win up finishing fourth overall and Edmond placed fifth, while Hammond completed three in the top eight in eighth. Houck won the ‘B’ final of the 100 free with a lifetime best time of 51.07 and Frazee placed 15th as NAU once again made its presence felt in a sprint freestyle event.
More lifetime bests fell as if they were going out of style in the 200 breaststroke with junior Urte Kazakeviciute and senior Monica Pruett recording their best ever times in the finals. Kazakeviciute inched even closer to the school record by posting a finals time of 2:13.73, which was an NCAA B standard time and good enough for third-place. Pruett meanwhile recorded a time of 2:18.53 and finished eighth in her final collegiate meet ever, coincidentally in her hometown of Houston.
“This meant a lot to me since this was my hometown; I’ve trained in this pool for many years,” Pruett said. “For this to be my last conference meet and have so many people come to see me, it meant a lot. We feel like we’re on the top of the world. Coming into college, I never thought I’d be a part of a championship team and now I’ve been a part of three.”
Other NAU point scorers in the swimming events included juniors Sara Lenhoff and Jori Lindquist in the 200 backstroke and freshen Andrea Schmidt and Amanda Sumrow in the 200 fly. Lenhoff placed fourth in the backstroke with a season-best time of 2:00.88 and Lindquist finished 13th. The first-year butterfliers teamed with Staffeldt to dominate the event with Schmidt and Sumrow each besting their entry times by over five seconds. Schmidt had her best finish of the meet in seventh with a time of 2:03.52, while Sumrow was one spot behind with a time of 2:03.75.
On platform, Gonzales and Townsend both notched season and career-best scores in the finals behind Jackson’s lead. Gonzales used her platform experience to record the third-best score in school history in her first WAC meet at 227.50. She placed fourth in the event, and Townsend went out with a bang with a lifetime-best score of 192.30 in eighth.
NAU proved once again that it had the deepest and most talented diving group in the conference as it was the only school with multiple divers in the final. The ‘Jacks also placed junior Alexa Geiger and freshman Christina Torrente in the consolation with Geiger recording a career-best score of 197.35 to place 11th overall and Torrente finished two spots behind with a score of 184.15.
“Overall it was a great performance,” Huffman said. “We always aim to have a perfect dive, but that’s not always the case. There were ups and downs, but there were a whole lot more ups. When we were down, we were resilient and bounced back. All week, we had a lot of divers in the finals and a lot in the consolation (finals). They all did a great job.”
Once again, the Lumberjacks won as a team as all 21 scoring athletes scored points in at least two of three events. Sixteen of the 21 athletes qualified for at least one ‘A’ final and six athletes – Brown, Edmond, Gonzales, Hammond, Richter and Staffeldt – placed in the top eight in all three of their individual events. Lastly, NAU was the only team to place an athlete in the championship heat of every individual event.
Air Force Press Release:
The Air Force men’s swimming and diving team earned its first ever conference championship as the Falcons won the Western Athletic Conference title, Saturday, Feb. 27, in Houston, Texas. The Falcons posted 771 points to finish ahead of Wyoming (690), Grand Canyon (650), UNLV (578), North Dakota (344), CSU Bakersfield (309) and Seattle (183).
After finishing third in 2014 and second last season, the Falcons broke through this season with a deep team that went wire-to-wire, leading from day one all the way through the final event.
The Falcons started out the day by taking four the top five places in the 1650 free. Junior Andrew Faciszewski won with a time of 15:01.73. Kevin Jackson was third (15:05.71), Garrett Glaudini was fourth (15:20.12) and Collin Green was fifth (15:24.06).
In the 200 back stroke, Kris Tillery was third (1:45.63) and Joey Gebhart was seventh (1:47.01). The Falcons also had two qualifiers in the 100 free final as Jordan Dahle was sixth (44.37) and Steffen Mount was seventh (44.44).
Air Force had three qualifiers in the finals of the 200 breast stroke as Michael Barnosky was second (1:56.33), Kevin Fanter was third (1:57.53) and Zach Knoche as sixth (1:57.96). In the 200 fly, Sean Ledford was eighth with a time of 1:48.85).
In the final event of the four-day meet, the 400 free relay, the team of Devon Davis, Steffen Mount, George Frank and Jordan Dahle was second with a time of 2:56.48.
Barnosky, who won the 100 breast stroke title on Friday, has already qualified in that event for the NCAA Championships, March 24-26, in Atlanta, Ga. The Falcons had numerous NCAA “B” times and will await any other qualifiers for the national tournament.