Northern Arizona's divers nearly posted a perfect result and the swimmers rallied for a relay win in what amounted to a 40-point lead for the swimming and diving team on the first day of the 2018 WAC Championships inside the University of Houston's CRWC Natatorium on Wednesday.
The Lumberjacks collected 147 points to stay ahead of the Idaho Vandals (107 points) and the Grand Canyon Antelopes (85).
Like it did last year, Northern Arizona opened the conference meet with gold medals in two of the three events, defending its titles on the 1-meter springboard and in the 800 freestyle relay.
"The relays were about as good as they could get and the divers ... I mean, they were incredible," said Lumberjacks head coach Andy Johns.
Junior Tatiana Kurach, the reigning WAC Diver of the Year, edged out a few of her teammates for the 1-meter victory and got her second career gold medal in the process. Kurach, along with freshman Jenny Cheetham and junior Christina Torrente, swept the podium, finishing one-two-three in a resounding performance.
Kurach, diving in the final position after placing first in the preliminaries, clinched the top spot with a final score of 286.95. She bested Cheetham's score of 285.60 in the freshman's first-ever championship event. Torrente claimed third with a score of 284.70, clinching NAU's first diving podium sweep since joining the WAC in 2005.
Lumberjacks junior Raquel Gonzales placed fifth overall with a season-best score of 272.30. With Gonzales' finish, the Lumberjacks not only had four of the top five, but they accounted for half of the championship final.
"Getting four in the top eight is just amazing, and first, second and third, we can't ask for more in a sweep," said Lumberjacks diving coach Nikki Huffman.
Kurach, Torrente and Gonzales were one-two-three at the conclusion of the preliminaries, with Cheetham in fifth. Junior Olivia Payne gave NAU a fifth scorer with a qualifying score of 225.55 into the consolation final. In the 'B' final, Payne improved her score by nearly 40 points to 263.10 and in the process improved from 14th to earn a career-best WAC finish of 11th.
With Kurach's win, NAU has now won the 1-meter event three years running with former Lumberjack Alexa Geiger placing first each of the last two years.
In the 800-freestyle relay, the team of senior Kimmy Richter, redshirt junior Monique King, freshman Sam Milewski and senior Alina Staffeldt nearly broke the school record with a winning time of 7:17.94.
NAU swam in third after the first 200 yards and moved up to second following King's second leg in which she posted the fastest split among the four Lumberjacks. It would then be Milewski who would storm ahead of Grand Canyon to give Staffeldt a lead going into the final 200 yards, one she would not relinquish.
In the night's first relay -- the 200 medley relay -- Northern Arizona earned the silver with a time of 1:42.09 despite having three freshmen among the four swimmers. Freshmen Sarah O'Connor, Hope Williams and Elisa Rodriguez were anchored by senior Roni Houck in getting to the podium. The Lumberjacks originally placed third, but were awarded second after initial runner-up New Mexico State was disqualified.
Preliminaries for the 500 freestyle, 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle will begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The 3-meter springboard prelims will begin at 11:30 a.m. Finals for all events plus the 200-free relay will start at 5 p.m.
The women's basketball team, winner of two of its last three games, makes its final road trip this week before the conference tournament starts up to face Sacramento State and Portland State.
Northern Arizona and Sacramento State begin the penultimate week of the regular season on Thursday at 8 p.m. The Lumberjacks will then take on Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m. before flying back to Flagstaff.
The Lumberjacks put together their best performance in more than two months in a 79-59 victory over North Dakota in the Walkup Skydome Saturday. Rebounding from an 85-63 loss to Northern Colorado last Thursday, Northern Arizona shot 45.9 percent overall and made a season-high 10 3-pointers to defeat the Fighting Hawks.
Sacramento State is 5-20 overall and enters the week with an identical 3-11 conference record as NAU following an 83-71 loss to Idaho State and 86-73 loss to Weber State on the road last week. The Hornets had swept Montana State and Montana the week prior at home.
Hannah Friend has led the Hornets this season, ranking sixth in the Big Sky with 18.0 points per game. She also leads the team with 7.0 rebounds per game and is seventh in the conference with 2.5 three-pointers made per game.
Portland State split last week's road trip, first sneaking by Weber State, 62-60, before losing to Idaho State, 72-64. The Vikings have won three of their last four and are among the teams jockeying for seeding in the middle of the pack at 8-6 in conference and 14-11 overall.
Sidney Rielly ranks eighth in the Big Sky in scoring with a team-best 17.0 points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three.