NEW ORLEANS – He's officially been at the helm for just over three months now, but Northern Arizona University Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Mike Smith's legacy continues to blossom each day as "the new coach on campus" was named the 2017 NCAA Mountain Region Women's Coach of the Year Monday morning, per the USTFCCCA.
The Northern Arizona University women's track and field team mounted a second-day comeback at the Big Sky Indoor Championships two weekends back and defied its No. 2 preseason ranking by securing the 2017 conference championship. Nine All-Big Sky performances, six of which ended with gold around Lumberjacks' necks, fueled the run for the team's 12th indoor title and second in four seasons.
There have been a bevy of outstanding performances from a number of Lumberjacks this indoor campaign, but if one athlete stands out just a little more than most its thrower Brooke Andersen. Competing in six indoor weight throw events in 2017, the NAU redshirt-junior has won five of those including a conference title. Additionally, her personal-best 71-0.75 (21.66m) bomb recorded in mid-February is the Big Sky's all-time record and ranks No. 9 in the NCAA this season.
The four-time athlete of the week in 2017 will have a great shot at an All-American performance, and potentially even more, when she travels to College Station, Texas, this weekend for NCAA Division I Indoor National Championships.
Of course, Coach Smith's primary concentration is distance and we cannot forget the performance of Paige Gilchirst in 2017. Throughout her career as a Lumberjack, the best phrase to describe Gilchrist is "work-horse," as her determination and passion for the sport is paralleled by few.
This work ethic was on display two weekends ago in Pocatello, Idaho, where the Missoula, Mont., distance athlete wore three gold medals—two won individually and another earned as a member of the distance medley relay team—while hoisting the conference championship trophy with her teammates. For Gilchrist, her victorious performances in the 3000-meter and mile events were the first conference championships of her Lumberjack career—a small but well-deserved reflection of all the blood, sweat and tears she has poured into this program.
For McPherson, she was named the meet's "Most Valuable Women's Athlete," and it is hard to argue considering her 22 points—coming from a victory in the long jump, a second-place finish in the 60m dash and a couple more points in the 200m dash—were something the 'Jacks weren't privy to last season. Seeing as NAU only won by 12 points, McPherson's efforts as a graduate transfer cannot be overlooked.
Neither can Jasmine Malone's, either. The true sophomore sprinter from Chandler, Ariz., went home with the gold in the women's 400m dash, becoming the first Lumberjack since 1992 and only the second NAU women's athlete to ever accomplish that feat. As if her historic performance wasn't enough, she tacked on a bronze in the 200m later for good measure.
Of course, none of what the NAU women have been able to accomplish so far in 2017 is possible without the combined efforts of each and every coach on staff, and Smith would be the first to admit as much.
Coaches Kenny McDaniel (sprints/hurdles), Nathan Ott (throws), Roderick Townsend (jumps), Becca DeLoache (distance), Jarred Cornfield (distance), Ty Butts (jumps) and Carl Caughell (sprints/hurdles) are all integral ingredients to the success of this squad and a recognition that this award isn't possible without them must be noted.