Local prep swimmers helped NAU to 4 conference titles


Four years ago, when Roni Houck and the Mann twins were making their decision about where they would enroll for college, they knew that the Northern Arizona University women’s swimming & diving team had just won a conference title.  That likely influenced their decision to join the Lumberjack program.

But it was impossible for any of the three in-state swimming standouts to imagine they would be part of four more title acquisitions.  They now hold the unique distinction of being part of a group of six graduating seniors from the Flagstaff school who wrapped up each year of competition as members of a conference championship team.

NAU, which offers only a women’s D-I swim program, just notched its fifth straight Western Athletic Conference title, scoring 810 team points to finish more than 200 points ahead of runner-up New Mexico State.

Nearly half of the Lumberjack roster is plucked from in-state high schools, 15 in all this year.  But just three of those local athletes will leave this year as four-time conference champs.

And this year’s senior class will go down as the most decorated in the history of the program, which dates back to 1983.  This class has contributed four of the school’s 11 conference championships.

“This senior class is irreplacable, so we’re going to take a few hits there (with graduation),” says head coach Andy Johns, who just completed his 22nd season directing the program.  “We feel good about our fall signees and their ability to come in and contribute, but our work will be cut out for us to repeat.”

It’s something special to be among a small handful that have been there for the full ride, from their freshman year on.  That’s the unique college experience that Houck, from Centennial High School in Peoria, and Allison and Audrey Mann from Sunnyslope High School will take with them as they depart Flag for the final time next month.

Others in that select group came a much greater distance for the same experience.  Kimmy Richter is from Auckland, New Zealand, and Alina Staffeldt made the trek from Hannover, Germany.  The final member of the group, Claire Hammond, just stepped across the border from her home in Roseville, CA.

Houck was a one-year letter winner at Centennial, and a starter on the swim team, after transferring in from Kaiserslautern, Germany.  She transitioned well to college competition.  As a freshman she competed in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyle, earning 21 top-three finishes and six individual titles.

Houck earned All-WAC first team honors that year, and for her sophomore and senior years as well, and was a member of the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay teams that set school records.

The Mann sisters were four-year letter winners in high school on a Sunnyslope team that boasted an undefeated run in dual meets for 16 straight years.  Each was also a team captain one year.

Where they differed was their choice of events.  Audrey swam the 100 and 200 breaststroke, and the 200 and 400 IM events.  Allison, who broke a school record for the 100 backstroke at Sunnyslope, competes in the 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 50 and 100 freestyle.

Houck, Richter, and Staffeldt found a great way to close out their college careers. In the final event of the final night of the WAC Championships, the trio of seniors joined with freshman Elisa Rodriguez, another recruit from Sunnyslope High, to set a new school record in the 400 freestyle relay, winning the event in a time of 3:23.27.

That’s NAU’s first gold medal in that event since 1994 — 11 years before the program joined the WAC.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)