Northern Arizona University’s swimming and diving team clinched its eighth straight Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championships title Saturday. The Lumberjacks racked up a total of 740 points, finishing 121 points ahead of second-place finisher New Mexico State University.
To top off their winning run, NAU’s team earned four WAC honors. Swimmer Francesca Criscione was named Freshman of the Year, Victoria Knapp, Diver of the Year, Andy Johns was named Swimming Coach of the Year and Nikki Huffman was named Diving Coach of the Year.
Knapp, who took gold in two diving events at the championship on Feb. 27 and has secured multiple NCAA qualifying scores, will be training for her debut at Zones this upcoming week, March 8-10. Criscione, from Corvallis, Oregon, recorded a total of three top-times during the swimming championships. She started the championship swimming in the final leg of the 800-meter freestyle relay, securing the ‘Jacks first gold medal on the first night of the WAC Championships, hitting the wall at 7:32.72.
In addition to the two student-athletes receiving conference awards, both Huffman and Johns are eight-time recipients of the WAC Diving Coach of the Year and WAC Swimming Coach of the Year honors for their respective events. Both coaches led the Lumberjacks to their eighth-straight WAC Conference Championships title. Huffman coached and produced three WAC Diver of the Week awards for her athletes with Johns developing two Swimmers of the Week during the 2020-21 season.
Since 1994, Johns now has nine conference titles under his belt (Pacific Collegiate Swimming, 1998; Western Athletic 2014-2021), earning more than 80 individual and relay wins.
After the swimmers’ performance the week prior in St. George, Utah, NAU had a point advantage going into the diving portion of the WAC championships. Prior to the three-day diving component, NAU posted eight first-place finishes along with six top-five placements in 18 swimming events.
“Winning an eighth straight championship this year, given all the challenges and difficulties we faced, is certainly satisfying and rewarding,” Johns said. “We are extremely proud of the results and especially happy for our seniors, who demonstrated great leadership with their efforts and attitude through all of the uncertainty that this season presented. Our team rose to the challenge and performed at a high level across all the events, including our divers, who really put the finishing touches on the championship in our home pool last week. I want to thank Nikki, Larry, Liz and our entire support staff for their assistance throughout the year.”
Knapp, a freshman from Mesa, earned gold medals on the 1- and 3-meter in her debut year. Senior Jenny Cheetham, who was diving in her final meet while battling through injuries, finished in second place in her only event of the weekend, the 1-meter.
NAU’s Aly Jones and Emily Luberto went fourth and fifth, respectively, after Grand Canyon’s Elizabeth Mcknight recorded a third-place finish in the prelims. With 192.70 and 185 points, the two Jacks advanced onto the platform finals. Jones wrapped up the platforms in sixth with a mark of 190.65.
Luberto improved her preliminary tally by more than 37 points. With the net in her score, Luberto earned her first gold medal on the platforms. Scoring 222.95, she topped her competition.
After earning multiple qualifying scores throughout the season, Knapp, Meagan Jensen and Jones all will compete in the NCAA Zone E Finals meet, which NAU will host on March 8-10.
At the week prior, NAU earned 572.5 points at the WAC swimming championships, putting NAU into first place going into the diving championships. Swimmers earned eight gold medals:
- 800 freestyle relay (Katy Smith, Maddy Rey, Annie Carlton, Francesca Criscione), 7:32.72
- 500 freestyle, Francesca Criscione, 4:54.09
- 200 freestyle, Annie Carlton, 1:50.34
- 100 breaststroke, Hope Williams, 1:01.14 (broke NAU school record)
- 400 medley relay (Sophie Velitchkov, Hope Williams, Maddie Seidl, Annie Carlton), 42.82
- 1650 freestyle, Francesca Criscione, 16:55.94
- 200 breaststroke, Hope Williams, 2:14.96
- 200 butterfly, Maddie Seidl, 2:01.63