POCATELLO, Idaho – The men and women on Northern Arizona University's track and field team knew they had a great opportunity this weekend to win a couple of conference titles, and they put themselves in prime contention after the second day of action from 2017 Big Sky Indoor Championships.
In fact, the Lumberjacks combined for four conference championship gold medals today, including three on the women's side: Brooke Andersen in the weight throw, Shanice McPherson in the long jump and the women's distance medley relay team. Sophomore Tyler Day was the lone 'Jack on the men's side to nab Big Sky gold Friday.
Granted, there is still another day of competition and a long ways to go before the Lumberjacks can even think about hoisting two indoor conference trophies for the first time since 2014, but Director of Track and Field Mike Smith and his coaching crew feel confident in their group and are excited for the challenge Saturday.
Both squads are currently sitting in second place, with the men (32.5 points) 10.5 points behind first-place Montana State and the women (39 points) eight points behind leader Montana.
"I was very pleased with the way we handled ourselves today and how we ended the competition going into tomorrow," said Smith. "We have all the right people in the finals and we have really positive energy moving forward, and that's a sign off good things to come."
"I do, however, want to give props to Coach Nathan Ott and his throws group as well as Coach Roderick Townsend as his jumps squad. We think we have one of the best throws coaches in the country and the consistency with which Townsend has been able to coach his athletes this season is remarkably impressive."
It's hard not to lead off with the throws group, especially after two stellar performances today. First, Andersen—already the conference's weight throw record holder—came out and absolutely dominated the rest of the field, winning with a 66-6.50 (20.32m) toss. That mark was almost a full five feet better than the second-place finisher.
For Andersen, it was her first conference championship in the weight throw, which is hard to believe considering she has eight career victories in that event.
The other standout performance on Friday for the throws squad was freshman Parker Joens. After progressively hitting new collegiate personal-bests at almost every meet this season, Joens busted a 55-8.00 (17.01m) bomb in the first flight of the shot put today—eventually going onto place fifth and logging an all-important four points.
"The cool thing about [Andersen] is the confidence she has had all season long," said Ott. "She absolutely controlled the entire competition tonight. For [Joens], that's up there with one of the coolest moments for me as a coach. To see him put in all the work he has this season and have it pay off in that moment was awesome."
From last year to this one, no other event group on the NAU track and field team has made larger strides (literally and figuratively) than the jumps unit. Today, that notion was reflected in the performances of McPherson, Obang Odol, Khalil Dorsey and Cameron Rayford.
First, McPherson—the two-time Division II long jump champion—leapt her way into the record books with a 20-6.50 (6.26m) jump, which tied the top marks ever recorded in NAU and Big Sky history. Then, Odol scored a huge six points with his gutsy performance in the men's high jump—battling a sore ankle to take third with a 6-6.5 (2.03m) jump. Finally, closing out the night were Dorsey and Rayford in the men's long jump. Both hit PR's and combined for four and a half points toward the men's cause.
Dorsey will also compete in the finals of the 60m hurdles tomorrow after qualifying with a 8.27 time in the prelims today, while McPherson will do the same in the women's 60m.
"Our group truly showed the nature of what it means to be a Lumberjack: they went out there, spoke softly and carried a big axe," said Townsend. "I'm just so proud of them as a coach and humbled to see them succeeding as much as they are."
As is the nature of this meet, there were no finalized times in the sprinting events but certainly a ton of NAU athletes qualifying for finals tomorrow. That fact cannot go unnoticed, considering the dogfight both teams find themselves in. It is always great to qualify as many athletes as you can for finals, and Lumberjack sprints did just that.
On the men's end, James Fisher will look to become the first conference athlete in history to win three straight indoor 200m titles after qualifying in Friday's prelims. His teammates Kossi Tchenawou and Isaiah Kennedy will join him in the 200m finals, with those latter two Lumberjacks also racing in the 60m finals.
Recently named the Big Sky Women's Track Athlete of the Week, Jasmine Malone lived up to that bill and will compete in Saturday's 200m and 400m finals.
"I'm excited how the crew competed today," said sprints coach Kenny McDaniel. "They displayed effort with their approach to the entire competition. They're definitely building momentum as we prepare for day three."
Tonight, the DMR teams stepped up in big ways and made their presence known. For the women, it was Maggie Carruth, Kylie Goo, Tylnn Carter and Paige Gilchrist running a collective 11:39.45 time—third best in NAU history and seventh in the Big Sky's. In fact, these women were the first group of NAU athletes to win an indoor title in this event since 2006.
The men could not quite pull the same trick as their female counterparts, but to their credit, Andy Trouard, Cade Burks, Peter Lomong and Geordie Beamish all raced toward a second-place silver medal finish and eight points with a 10:04.77 time.
Not to get lost in the shuffle, though, is Carruth and her showing in the 800m run tonight. Carruth hit a second-wind down the home stretch and ran in for the first place prelims finish and a new PR at 2:10.93. She and teammate Ashley Taylor (2:12.68) will race in the 800m finals Saturday.
Sophomore Mikayla Malaspina raced in the women's 5000m and locked up five points for the women's squad with a fourth-place time of 17:26.23.
Additionally, Lomong will also advance to the 800m finals tomorrow after qualifying today in the prelims.
The third and final day of Big Sky Indoor Championships begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the field events. Track events start at 12:30 p.m.
A full schedule can be found here.