For years, the Northern Arizona swimming and diving team were the hunters at the Western Athletic Conference Championships. This week, the Lumberjacks will be in a different position for the first time in school history. As the defending champions, NAU will instead be the hunted as it sets its sights on bringing back the title to Flagstaff for the second consecutive season.
The four-day 2015 WAC Championships will start with 1-meter diving today as well as the night session capping with the 200 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay. Individual swimming events will begin on Thursday with the meet in San Antonio running through Saturday.
Junior Kendall Brown is the lone returning individual gold medalist as she enters as the two-time defending champion in the 1,650 freestyle. Her regular season mile time is the third-best time in the conference. Brown and Caitlin Wright are two-three in the 500 free with junior Eva Pold beginning the week in 11th among the top times.
Redshirt junior Alex Huff was NAU's top finisher in the 50 free last season in ninth and will be one of the many Lumberjacks potentially looking to make an impact in the sport's fastest event this year.
Senior Alexis Juergens and freshman Alina Staffeldt are among the team's top performers in the butterfly as the pair have both been exceptional in the 100 and 200 during the regular season. Both own top-eight times in the two butterfly events.
The Lumberjacks have traditionally been strong in the breaststrokes and will once again boast a talented crew. Sophomore Urte Kazakeviciute enjoyed a breakout last year highlighted by a second-place finish in the 200 breast with an NCAA 'B' standard time. She also placed fifth in the 100 and hopes for a solid follow-up with the team's top times in both events this season.
Like Kazakeviciute, sophomore Sara Lenhoff also had a sensational first WAC Championship a year ago with top-four finishes in the 100 and 200 backstrokes. Lenhoff is currently ranked sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 100 this season.
The conference's most well-rounded diving unit resides with NAU. The group is led by junior Chelsea Jackson, who narrowly missed on her first career gold medal last season, notching three third-place finishes in the three diving events. Jackson is one of the top contenders on each diving boar,d ranking second on 3-meter and third on both 1-meter and platform during the regular season in the WAC.
Jackson is not the only Lumberjack among the WAC's elite as NAU can be found throughout the conference's top scores. Sophomore Alexa Geiger is at the top of the 1-meter chart after the regular season with a score of 287.10 and is also in the top eight on all three boards.
The Lumberjacks' road to a second WAC title will not be an easy one with traditional contenders like Idaho and New Mexico State eager to take down the reigning champs. During the regular season, though, NAU fared well in dual meet settings against its conference opposition, compiling a 3-0 record against Idaho, New Mexico State and Northern Colorado.
A video stream of all four night finals will be available for free via the WAC. For video links as well as live results, visit www.wacsports.com.
Northern Arizona women's golf kept its place in the top three at the Grand Canyon Invitational Tuesday. The team posted a score of 311, leading to a combined score of 612 (+36) for the tournament.
Freshman Kaitlin Saum led the Lumberjacks with a round of 76 (+4). For the tournament, she is tied for 12th with teammate Sierra Bezdicek. They both have a two-round score of 152 (+8). Saum leads the Lumberjacks in birdies with five for the tournament.
Carly Akine is tied for 21st at 154 (+10) and Brittany McKee is tied for 50th at 158 (+14).
UC Riverside leads the tournament with a score of 601 followed by Grand Canyon with 606. Southern Utah is on the Lumberjacks' tail with 614 going into the third round.
The Grand Canyon Invitational wraps up today in Litchfield Park as Kim Cifuentes tees off first for the Lumberjacks at 9:34 a.m.