NAU swim team readies for season with annual pentathlon
The NAU swim team began their season at the 16th annual NAU Pentathlon Sept. 23 at the Wall Aquatic Center, where 17 swimmers competed against one another. The meet allowed newcomers to get a feel for what it is like competing for a university team and challenge returning swimmers to break their records at events they would not normally race.
The girls have been training in and out of the water up to four hours a day for the last couple of weeks, adjusting their bodies to high altitude. “Getting used to altitude is part of training — we’re running, we’re swimming, we’re lifting weights, we’re doing a ton of stuff,” said head coach Andy Johns. “We will eventually get to be doing a lot more swimming these next few weeks.”
The first event of the day was the 200-meter individual medley, in which sophomore Rachel Palmer broke the meet record with a time of 2:33.41, almost two seconds faster than her previous record. Palmer took top honors at the meet, finishing second in the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter breaststroke. “I trained a lot at home and being back here I’ve been pushing myself really hard. I really wanted that record today; it was a big focus for me,” Palmer said. “I did a lot of breast stroke because that’s one of my weaker legs in the IM [individual medley] and today I felt like my breast stroke went really well, so I’m pretty happy with it.”
Palmer competed at the State Insurance 2011 New Zealand Short Course Championships this summer, along with sophomore Emma Lowther, who placed 1st in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 1:04.87 and first in the 100-meter freestyle at 59.78. Lowther set the NAU 200-meter butterfly record this past season, and came close to her record at this meet, finishing third overall.
Last year’s pentathlon winner, Fiona “Fi” Connell, finished the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:04.77, just .48 of a second behind the NAU all-time record she set. Connell is a three-time Western Athletics Conference (WAC) champion and returned from Australia to begin her third season here at NAU. “I came back to Flagstaff in July after swimming at the Australian nationals [Australian Short Course National Championships] [to] start training and get adjusted to the altitude because it’s not a pretty experience for me and it’s kind of hard for my body to adjust,” Connell said.
Connell is coming off a back injury and is back to her normal training schedule with a goal to make the NCAA championship this year. “My goals from [the past] year were a lot quicker than what I actually swam [the past] year, so I’m hoping to get back on track now that I’m injury free,” Connell said. “We talk about positivity in this team, so I will make it this year. I’ve been lucky enough to get big qualifying times these past two years, but haven’t been ranked high enough.”
Freshman Caitlin Wright accumulated the most points of all freshmen, placing 5th in the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle. “I thought about it this morning. ‘It would be nice to see what I can do compared to the other newcomers,’” the Tucson native said. “We have a really good class this year and I think we have a good chance to get into the WAC championship.” Wright is excited to start her first season for the Lumberjacks and be a part of a new team. “It’s a lot of fun. We do everything together, and it’s a whole different atmosphere than high school or club team,” Wright said. “You get behind each other and you cheer each other on. Being a freshman, I am out of my comfort zone from high school and it’s nice to have my teammates here.”
The Lumberjacks next event is the annual Blue-Gold meet Oct. 7 at the Wall Aquatic Center and until then, they will continue to practice every day. “I think we have a well-balanced team across all the events including divers, newcomers and veterans, and we feel pretty good about where we are and where we are headed,” Johns said.