2024 WAC Fan Guide: NAU Women Leaning On Diving With 11 Straight Within Reach

2024 WAC Swimming & Diving Championships

  • Dates February 28 – March 2, 2024
  • Location: Pharr Natatorium – Pharr, Texas
  • Teams: Air Force, Cal Baptist, Grand Canyon, Idaho, New Mexico State, NAU, Northern Colorado, Seattle U, UNLV, Utah Tech, Wyoming
  • Defending Champions: NAU women 10x, UNLV men 3x (results)
  • SCY (25 yards)
  • Championship Central
  • Live Results
  • Live Video

The 2024 Western Athletic Conference Championships come less than one week after three swimmers from the University of Wyoming were killed in a single-vehicle car accident, including two members of the men’s team, which will be competing at these championships.

Psych sheets have yet to be made available, though several members of Wyoming’s team are said to be opting out of competing.

The NAU women’s team enters with hopes of winning an 11th straight title, while the UNLV men aim to make it a four-peat.

EVENT SCHEDULE

Wednesday (2/28)

  • 200 medley relay
  • Men’s 1-meter diving
  • 800 free relay
  • Women’s 3-meter diving

Thursday (2/29)

  • 200 freestyle relay
  • Men’s 1-meter diving
  • 500 freestyle
  • 200 IM
  • 50 freestyle
  • Women’s 3-meter diving

Friday (3/1)

  • 400 IM
  • 100 butterfly
  • 200 freestyle
  • 100 breaststroke
  • 100 backstroke
  • Men’s platform diving
  • 400 medley relay

Saturday (3/2)

  • 1650 freestyle (timed finals)
  • 200 backstroke
  • 100 freestyle
  • 200 breaststroke
  • 200 butterfly
  • Women’s Platform diving
  • 400 freestyle relay

2023 FINAL TEAM SCORES

Women

  1. NAU, 835
  2. Grand Canyon, 605
  3. Northern Colorado, 493
  4. Utah Tech, 462
  5. New Mexico State, 459
  6. Cal Baptist, 300
  7. Idaho, 279
  8. Seattle U, 172

Men

  1. UNLV, 838
  2. Grand Canton, 627.5
  3. Cal Baptist, 565
  4. Wyoming, 545.5
  5. Air Force, 542
  6. Seattle U, 194

SWIMMERS TO WATCH

WOMEN

Casey Craffey, Junior – NAU: Craffey comes in as the defending champion in the women’s 500 and 1650 free, and leads the conference rankings this season in both going away. After winning dominant titles in the two events last year, she hit new personal bests (altitude-adjusted) at the Colorado Mesa Invitational in November, clocking 4:45.21 in the 500 and 16:15.27 in the 1650.

Maddy Rey, Senior – NAU: The two-time defending champion in the 200 fly and 400 IM, Rey leads the conference this season in the former with her time of 1:59.03 (altitude-adjusted) from late January. Her best time stems from the 2022 championships at 1:57.68. In the 400 IM, Rey ranks 2nd this season behind Idaho’s Ginger Kiefer by just over a tenth with a pair of 4:21-highs, but Rey has been 4:15 in each of the past two championships en route to the title. She also won the 500 free as a sophomore before taking 3rd last year (despite getting quicker), so look for her to have a showdown with teammate Craffey in that event.

Maria Brunlehner, Junior – GCU: Brunlehner is an interesting name to watch this week for several reasons. She’s the defending champion in the 100 free, 100 breast and 200 IM (the two-time defending champion in both the 100 breast and 200 IM), but doesn’t lead the conference in any of them this season. She’s also coming off racing at the 2024 World Championships in Doha, so she hasn’t had her usual taper progression leading up to these championships. Her best times of 48.81 and 1:59.17 make her a massive favorite in the 100 free and 200 IM, and in the 100 breast, she’s due for a rematch with teammate Rapha Nakashima, who was 2nd last year and has been .01 faster than Brunlehner’s best time this season at 1:01.04.

MEN

Danny Beji, Junior – UNLV: Beji will be out for a bit of redemption this year. As a freshman in 2022, he led the prelims of the 200 breast before placing 2nd in the final while also placing 3rd in the 100 breast. Last season, he dominated the 100 breast with a blistering PB of 52.14, but was disqualified in the final of the 200 breast. Leading the conference this season in both breast events, including hitting a PB of 1:54.16 in the 200 in November, he’ll be aiming to claim the breaststroke sweep for the first time. Defending champion Jonathan Rom of GCU ranks 2nd in the 200 breast this season at 1:55.41 and won the 2023 title in 1:53.90.

Quinn Cynor, Junior – Wyoming: The defending champion in the 200 fly, Cynor had hit a new level this season in the mid-distance freestyle events, reeling off times of 1:34.40 in the 200 free and 4:19.55 in the 500 free at the Colorado Mesa Invitational (altitude-adjusted) to lead the conference. After he was 3rd in the 200 free and raced the 200 IM instead of the 500 free last season, Cynor is in a position to have an individual sweep.

George Ratiu, Senior – UNLV: Ratiu comes in with a chance to reclaim his 100 fly title and take a run at the 50/100 free crowns in his senior year at UNLV. A Romanian native, Ratiu roared to the 100 fly win in 2022 in what remains his lifetime best of 46.10, but was on the outside looking in last season, placing 9th from the ‘B’ final. He leads the conference this season at 46.82, the only swimmer sub-47, and he’s also established himself as the best 100 freestyler in the WAC, clocking a best of 42.68 in November. In the 50 free, he ranks 2nd to teammate Bryson Huey, 19.60 to 19.65, with Ratiu’s PB sitting at 19.51.

SHOWDOWN RACES

WOMEN

100 Fly: With 2023 champion Pia Murray transferring to South Carolina, the 100 fly title is up for grabs with Grand Canyon sophomore Paula Martinez Moreno leading the way as the fastest swimmer in the WAC (53.50) and last year’s runner-up (53.55). However, NAU’s Elsa Musselman is hot on her heels having also broken 54 seconds this year, and Northern Colorado’s Payten Irwin was 53.9 in the 2023 final.

100 Back: The 100 back is in a unique spot with the top three finishers from last year all either transferred or graduated. That leaves 2023’s 4th place finisher, NAU’s Sophie Velitchkov, as the top returner, while Grand Canyon’s Briana Rittenbach, who was 11th last year, leads the conference rankings this season. Others in the hunt include Utah Tech’s Elenore Rembert and GCU’s Martinez Moreno, but this race is wide open.

MEN

100 Back: Not unlike the women’s race, the men’s 100 back is up for grabs with reigning champion Panos Bolanos no longer in the field. Grand Canyon’s Alex Volkov was the runner-up as a freshman and has shown sizeable improvement this year, leading the WAC in 46.73. UNLV’s Wikus Potgieter should make for a good rival as he’s just over two-tenths slower for 2nd in the conference rankings, while GCU’s Sam Jennings isn’t far off.

200 IM: Last season the 200 IM final saw the top five men all finish within one second of each other, and a similar battle is forecasted this year with UNLV’s Cooper Kiel and Mike Breitbart the frontrunners as the only men sub-1:48 this season. Grand Canyon also had four swimmers ranked in the top seven this season, led by breaststroker Jonathan Rom.

SWIMSWAM PICKS

WOMEN

  1. NAU
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. Northern Colorado

Grand Canyon is projected to score the most points in the pool by a wide margin, but last year, NAU scored over 250 points in the diving events. If they’re able to put up a similar total this year, the Lumberjacks should be able to make it 11 in a row, though this one could be incredibly close.

MEN

  1. UNLV
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. Cal Baptist

The men’s meet is more clear-cut in terms of the top three, with UNLV more than 200 points ahead in the projections in the swimming competition and Grand Canyon firmly entrenched in the runner-up spot.

Cal Baptist was 3rd last year but lost some key pieces—Wyoming was in position to take over that spot but things are unknown with some swimmers opting out.

1
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

1 Comment
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas J Cynor
1 month ago

It should be mentioned that a significant portion of the Wyoming Men’s Team is unavailable to compete at the WAC. Some remain back in Laramie, and others are choosing not to compete. Please keep the families of Carson, Charlie and Luke in your prayers. And for the speedy recovery both physically and emotionally of the surviving passengers and all those who grieve.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

Read More »