The Northern Arizona University swimming & diving squad doesn’t open play in their own conference until Nov. 3, so they have been warming up by taking on teams from the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences – and beating both of them.
Two weeks ago, the Lumberjacks opened the season with a history-making 57-49 home win over Arizona State and then traveled last weekend to Albuquerque to beat New Mexico in a thrilling upset that wasn’t decided until the final race of the event.
The strength of the NAU relay teams was confirmed after the win against ASU, as the Jacks opened the mixed relay dual with a victory in the 200 medley relay and then followed that with a win in the second relay race as the 300 backstroke team clocked a 3:15.21 winning mark. The 200 medley team won their event by posting a time of 1:59.47.
NAU also won the 300 breaststroke relay and added a couple of second-place finishes in the 300 butterfly relay and the 400 free relay to round out the scoring and complete their first win over the Sun Devils in program history.
After the meet, both schools participated in a free clinic for youth in the area.
The momentum from the ASU win carried over to the following week when the Jacks hit the road for the first time this season to take on New Mexico in that school’s first home meet. The two schools hadn’t met since 2008, but had gone head-to-head in 24 meets through the years, with each winning 12 before last Saturday’s dual meet.
Now the Lumberjacks have the edge in the series after beating the Lobos, 152-148.
NAU won seven individual events in the meet, but it was the 400 freestyle relay that clinched the win in the last event of the day. And they did it in dramatic style.
The Lobos held a 142-141 lead going into the final event, but the team of Kelsey Loy, Alex Huff, Emma Lowther, and Ellie Morrissey touched the edge of the pool .49 of a second ahead of their hosts to give the Jacks the 11 points they needed for the win.
Loy, the senior from California, is the top returning sprinter on this year’s squad. She helped NAU set a program record in the 200 medley relay last season, swimming the anchor leg on the team that posted a sizzling time of 1:41.93.
Coming from behind seemed to be the order of the day for NAU, as the Jacks got in the hole right away by losing the first relay, the 200 medley, and finding themselves still down at the half.
A local athlete, Kristy Ardavanis from Mesquite High School in Gilbert, kept the Jacks in the scoring in the diving events. The senior added a second -place finish on the 1-meter board at 319.28 and recorded a 322.58 for third place on the 3-meter. Both of those scores qualify her for the NCAA Zone meet.
An All-WAC first-team selection last year, Ardavanis finished second on the 1-meter and fourth on the 3-meter at last year’s conference championships.
The Lumberjacks should fare well at this year’s Big Sky Championships. They have 17 letter winners – four of whom were mid-major All Americans – back from the 2011-12 program and have added a lot of talent to the roster so that they are pretty deep across the roster.
“We like the competitiveness that we’ve already been seeing,” says head coach Andy Johns. “We’ve been deep before, but without the quality we have now at the top end.”
(Photo: NAU Athletics)