FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University track and field program swept 2017 Big Sky Indoor Championships a couple weekends back, and it had everything to do with the balance up-and-down each event category.
Deservingly so, three of the Lumberjacks' greatest athletes from that double championship run—Brooke Andersen, Matt Baxter and Tyler Day—will represent the university on the national stage this weekend in College Station, Texas, when they compete at NCAA Indoor Championships.
Remarkably, this is only the fifth time in the history of NAU track and field that three or more athletes will perform at the indoor national meet, which really speaks to the caliber of talent on the roster this year.
Andersen has done just about everything you could ask of her in 2017…and then some. In the weight throw event this indoor campaign, she has thrown at six meets and has won five of them. If that wasn't enough, she also shattered and continued to reset the Big Sky women's weight throw record all season long, with her personal best coming at the final home meet: the NAU Tune-Up. There, Andersen heaved a 71-0.75, 21.66m bomb at the Walkup Skydome—becoming the first conference athlete ever to surpass the 70' mark.
Andersen carries the ninth-best mark into this weekend's indoor championships, with a real shot to become the second women in NAU history to notch an All-American performance in the weight event. Anna Soderberg was the first Lumberjack to do so back in 1997.
"The goal [for Andersen] is to stay consistent," said throws coach Nathan Ott. "Usually in these scenarios, athletes can let the stress of the meet get to them, so the emphasis is on carrying herself well, trusting her abilities and not letting all the other surrounding factors get to her."
"To have Andersen competing at nationals this weekend I think shows a couple things. One, we're not just a stacked men's program but we're also very talented on the women's side as well. Two, it shows NAU is a great place for throwers and can be recognized as one in the national spotlight. And finally, it's just good promotion for the university as a whole."
The 5000-meter event at NCAA Indoor Nationals has been a Lumberjack favorite in the past, and this season is certainly no different. This year, though, has a bit of a historically context to it: for the first time in both NAU and Big Sky history, two athletes from the same university will compete in the national 5K run.
Trailblazers in the figurative and literal sense, then, Baxter and Day will do their best to continue the long and storied legacy of Lumberjack distance athletes. Both punched tickets to the national meet because of the qualifying times they logged at the Iowa State Classic in early February.
Baxter's 13:44.27 mark and Day's 13:49.53 time at the ISU Classic were career-bests and rank No. 4 and No. 6 in Big Sky history. Seeing as both aren't complete strangers to the national stage—becoming All-Americans and national champions last November during the cross country season—the dynamic distance duo will surely do their best to light it up on the track this weekend on the campus of Texas A&M.
"I really like how we're sending two distance athletes to compete at nationals," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Mike Smith. "Indoor track, it's so hard to make this meet that it forces coaches to chase qualifications. For us though, we gave [Baxter and Day] one true crack at it, and they were able to make it in. I really do believe we have the best distance program with the most depth in the United States and to have two of our men come through the 5K confirms that."
Baxter and Day's 5K race is scheduled for a 7:20 p.m. MT start Friday, while Andersen's weight throw event gets underway Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Per the Big Sky Conference office: ESPN3 will stream the meet live on March 10 starting at 6:25 p.m. ET and March 11 starting at 4:55 p.m. ET. A re-air of the championship will take place on Sunday, March 12 starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Additionally, fans can follow along with the meet's live stats here.