FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Another outdoor track and field season looms upon us, and a hot Northern Arizona University squad will ride the momentum of two indoor conference titles and three NCAA All-American performances into this weekend's UC Irvine Spring Break Invitational to begin that campaign.
It is difficult not to be excited for the Lumberjacks as they approach late March with the weather warming up and the possibilities off the charts.
Consider, for example, the kind of depth and talent they ride into the outdoor campaign in the throws unit alone. Coming off redshirt outdoor seasons in 2016, three-time Big Sky Champion Julia Viberg (discus) and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials competitor Brooke Andersen (throws) are sure to make their impact known on a women's team that won outdoor conference without them last year.
The men's side boasts a similar amount of strength—both literally and figuratively—as defending outdoor champs in their respective events Shawn Collins (shot put) and Adam Keenan (hammer) are certainly projected to have stellar seasons in their throws circles. In fact, Keenan set the all-time Big Sky hammer throw record last season at conference championships (230-1, 70.14m) en route to punching a ticket to NCAA Championships and logging an All-American performance.
There is a cliché that a team is only as good as the sum of its parts, and the NAU sprints unit embodies that persona to a "T."
For the men, it is the 4x100-meter relay group usually composed of James Fisher (five-time 200m Big Sky Champ), Isaiah Kennedy (2017 60m conference champ) and Kossi Tchenawou. As a squad, those three in addition to former Lumberjack DeShon Norris become only the second team in Big Sky history and first in NAU history to qualify for NCAA's in the 4x1.
It will be a tall task to replace someone like Norris, but newcomer Tyren Wolfe seems to possess the burners that NAU is looking for to fill that void. The freshman will race with the other three mentioned above this weekend and, for now, looks to be the likely candidate for that fourth spot.
On the women's end, it is the 4x400m relay group consisting of Nicole Fotinos (2016 400m outdoor champ), Tylnn Carter, Jasmine Malone (2017 400m indoor conference champ) and Ashley Taylor (2016 400mH Big Sky Champ) that will run this weekend in Irvine, Calif. Coming off a conference title in 2016 as a squad, the NAU 4x4 relay team is only more experienced this time around.
While NAU's best jumps athlete last outdoor season, Alexis Clay, graduated last spring, this particular group for the Lumberjacks has restocked the cupboard in 2017 and will surely be a player come conference championship time.
Shanice McPherson, most recently named the 2017 Big Sky's "Most Valuable Women's Athlete" at indoor conference in February, boasts a resume that includes two NCAA DII Long Jump Championships while Obang Odol's immense progression this year leaves no reason to doubt it will carry over to outdoors.
Last but certainly not least, it is hard to mention NAU without talking about its premier distance program. For starters, six of the seven men that competed at and subsequently won NCAA Cross Country National Championships are back for this outdoor season.
Tyler Day (2017 NCAA First-Team All-American – 5000m), Matt Baxter (2017 NCAA Second-Team All-American – 5000m), Andy Trouard (2016 NCAA XC All-American), Nathan Weitz, and Cory Glines (2016 Big Sky Outdoor Champ – 10,000m) are just some of the more prominent athletes that make up this stacked program on the men's side.
Unfortunately, long-time Lumberjack Melanie Townsend's outdoor eligibility is expired so the team will be without her three-career Big Sky titles this season.
However, Paige Gilchrist (two-time individual champ at 2017 indoor conference – mile and 3000m) and Kylie Goo (2016 All-Big Sky – 1500m) are more than capable to pick up the workload for NAU. Others such as Mikayla Malaspina, Miranda Myers and Maggie Carruth all have at least a year and half of experience under their belts, as well.
UC IRVINE SPRING BREAK INVITATIONAL
This weekend's meet will get underway tomorrow morning at 9 a.m MT with the women's hammer event, and the men's hammer will follow. No NAU athletes compete on the track tomorrow.