Junior Tatiana Kurach earned an impressive eighth-place finish on 1-meter during the first day of the Bruin Diving Invitational at UCLA to highlight the Northern Arizona swimming and diving team’s Friday action.
While Kurach and two of her teammates were competing in Los Angeles, the rest of the Lumberjacks came up just short in their bid to defeat Colorado State in their home pool, falling by a score of 123-120. On the front end of back-to-back dual meets, NAU posted seven wins in the 13-event meet, but wound up just shy on the final scoreboard.
Kurach opened up the day -- and the highly competitive Bruin Invite -- by posting a two-round score of 554.10 to finish eighth overall. She entered the finals in third after recording a qualifying score of 287.45 in the first round before ultimately slipping a few spots in the finals.
“Tatiana was really good; she was a little sharper in prelims,” said Lumberjacks diving coach Nikki Huffman. “But she was solid all the way through and did a great job.”
Junior Olivia Payne was the next finisher, placing 29th with a prelims score of 219.25. Freshman Jenny Cheetham rebounded from a tough start on Friday to place 43rd with a score of 197.95.
“Olivia was really solid today and she’s just getting back into a rhythm following a lengthy sickness,” Huffman said. “Jenny missed two dives, and I think she could’ve made finals if not for that. She kept fighting and she kept getting better.”
In a late afternoon dual meet at Colorado State’s Moby Pool, the Lumberjacks fought hard until the end, finishing the day on a high note with a victory in the 400 freestyle relay. Trailing by eight, 117-109, going into the final event, NAU called upon four seniors to close strong and they did just that. Roni Houck, Kimmy Richter, Claire Hammond and Alina Staffeldt posted a winning time of 3:30.36 in a thriller, but it was not enough with the Rams touching the wall in second and third to hang on for the meet win.
“Winning both relays and winning both boards in this format usually means you’re going to win the meet,” said Lumberjacks head coach Andy Johns. “It was interesting we won the shorter freestyle events and they won the longer distance ones. We did a few different things with our lineup, and most of it paid off in ways that turned out pretty well for us.”
The Lumberjacks did end the meet the way they started it though with their ‘A’ team consisting of three freshmen winning the 200 medley relay in the first event. Sarah O’Connor, Hope Williams, Staffeldt and Elisa Rodriguez raced to a time of 1:45.63 to give the Lumberjacks the early edge.
After Colorado State won the 1,000 freestyle, NAU won consecutive events with Richter placing first in the 200 free (1:53.37) by more than a second and Rodriguez winning the 50 free (24.13). Houck complemented Rodriguez’s win with a runner-up finish in the 50, which put the Lumberjacks in front, 42-32.
The Rams won the 200 individual medley to close the gap before junior Christina Torrente posted her first of two diving victories on the 1-meter springboard. With a career-high score of 301.58, Torrente recorded the win in dominating fashion by nearly 40 points.
Junior Andrea Schmidt and Richter went two-three in the 100 butterfly and NAU held an 80-70 advantage through eight events following Staffeldt’s first-place time of 52.35 in the 100 free. Rodriguez placed second and Houck was fourth.
Yet, Colorado State overtook NAU with wins in the final three individual swimming events – the 100 backstroke, 500 free and 100 breaststroke. In between, Torrente collected her second win on 3-meter with a score of 268.65 and freshman Katie Conn placed third.
The Lumberjacks went into the final event behind on the scoreboard, but that did not stop their four seniors from finishing fast. After the first two legs left NAU and Colorado State’s ‘A’ teams neck and neck, Hammond pulled away slightly on the third leg. Staffeldt held on in the last 100 yards to seal the relay sweep.
“We have to turn around and get ready for another tough meet tomorrow,” Johns said. “That will be a challenge to step up, but I’m really proud of the way they raced and battled today even though we came up on the short side in total points.”
NAU will see Colorado State again when the two teams compete versus Northern Colorado at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. The Lumberjacks diving trio will compete on 3-meter starting at 11:30 a.m. for Day Two action at UCLA.