Lumberjacks Set to Take on Conference Championships This Weekend

NAU's Adam Keenan, Paige Gilchrist, Obang Odol & Jasmine Malone
NAU's Adam Keenan, Paige Gilchrist, Obang Odol & Jasmine Malone

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – We are approaching the last weekend in February, which can only mean one thing: Big Sky Indoor Conference Championships are coming.

The Northern Arizona University track and field team will load the busses, hop on a plane or two and head to Pocatello, Idaho, for this weekend's indoor conference championships. The Lumberjacks are hoping to make it a successful business trip, one that culminates in the sixth-straight indoor title for the men's team and the second in four years for the women. 

"We have felt good about our performances leading into this meet, and there's definitely a tangible energy on both sides," said director of track and field Mike Smith. "Our athletes have a lot to be excited about, and they know it. They can sense they have a great shot at this and it's all right in front of them."

MEN'S PREVIEW

If the Lumberjack men are going to secure their 20th indoor team championship ever and 11th-straight overall conference championship, they are going to rely heavily on athletes from all event groups.

That list, though, has to begin with redshirt-junior James Fisher: the four-time defending 200-meter dash champ (two indoor, two outdoor). This season, the native of Arlington, Texas, ranks No. 1 on the Big Sky performance list in his bread-and-butter event while also securing 200m victories at Friday Night Duels and Mountain T's. 

Adam Keenan, looking to defend his 2016 weight throw title, will carry the men's throw squad into conference championships. Just two weekends ago, Keenan notched a personal-best weight throw at the Don Kirby Invitational (67' 1.25", 20.45m), which moved him to third-best all-time in NAU history and No. 6 in Big Sky history. In addition to leading the conference's performance list this season, Keenan also ranks 32nd in the NCAA.

Men's distance-wise, look for 2016 USTFCCCA Cross Country All-Americans and NCAA Champions Matt Baxter, Tyler Day and Andy Trouard to make huge splashes at Idaho State this weekend.

Baxter's personal-best 13:44.27 time in the 5000-meter event at the Iowa State Classic earlier this season ranks first in the Big Sky and eighth nationally. Additionally, Baxter was an all-conference performer in the same event at indoor championships last season, but he certainly has the running chops to win the entire thing this time around.

Like Baxter, Day also set a PR at the ISU Classic in the 5K (13:49.53)—good enough for 17th-best in the entire country—while Trouard's 4:00.81 mark in the mile event is second in the Big Sky and No. 32 in the NCAA. 

True sophomore Obang Odol made it a point of emphasis to work harder and get stronger in the offseason, and that effort has surely reflected in his high jump results so far in 2017. Currently sitting at No. 2 on the conference performance list this season with a PR mark of 6-10.75 (2.10m), Odol is gunning for a top-three place this weekend in his event category. 

WOMEN'S PREVIEW

"We have a lot of athletes on the women's side that are on the up-and-up and are just excited to compete," said Smith. "That collective energy is our best asset coming into conference championships."

The last time the Lumberjack women brought home an indoor championship was in 2014, which is coincidentally the last time Idaho State hosted this meet. Coming off a sixth-place team finish in 2016, which included three All-Big Sky performances and a 4x400-meter relay championship, the women are on a mission to obtain the program's 12th Big Sky Indoor Championship this time around. 

If that goal is to be accomplished, one should look no further than the four-time 2017 Big Sky Athlete of the Week and conference weight throw record holder Brooke Andersen. Andersen has been nothing short of absolutely dominate this indoor season, recording new PR after new PR at each of the four NAU home meets this season.

Most recently, the Vista, Calif., native slung a 71-0.75 (21.66m) throw at the NAU Tune-Up. It was the first such time in Big Sky history a conference athlete surpassed the 70' plateau and moved her to No. 11 in the NCAA this season. Even though Andersen earned third-place last year in the weight at indoor conference, the redshirt-junior has her eyes on a much bigger prize this weekend.  

For the women's sprints crew, Jasmine Malone seems to be hitting her stride at exactly the right time. The sophomore from Chandler, Ariz., is coming off a performance at last weekend's NAU Tune-Up where she set new PR's in both the 60-meter (7.67@) and 200-meter (24.44@) dashes. Both those times rank No. 3 in their respective event categories this season in the Big Sky, while her 400-meter 55.53@ time is No. 1 in the conference in 2017.

Much like her teammate Malone, NAU's Paige Gilchrist has been absolutely on fire as of late. Gilchrist most recently competed at the ISU Classic in Ames, Iowa, a couple weekends back, where she shattered her old-career best time in the 5K event with a spectacular 16:09.04 mark. That time currently sits No. 1 overall in the Big Sky this season by over 10 seconds, No. 28 in the nation and No. 2 all-time in NAU history.

The Missoula, Mont., resident also ranks first this season in the mile event (4:40.38@) and third in the 3000-meter run (9:46.28@).

Where the Lumberjacks experienced a bit of a drop off last season was in the jumps category, but it is an entirely different story this season. For one, two-time NCAA DII long jump champion Shanice McPherson joined the squad and leads the Big Sky this season in that event with a 20-1.50 (6.13m) mark. Secondly, sophomore long jumper Kaitlyn Wayne has worked extremely hard and made significant strides in 2017. This past weekend, Wayne actually registered a PR jump of 19-1.25 (5.82) which moved her from 18th on the conference's performance rankings to fifth. 

THE DETAILS

The 2017 Big Sky Indoor Conference Championships will begin technically today with the multi-events. Lumberjacks Sara Murray and Helena McLeod will compete in the women's pentathlon, but the entire NAU squad won't begin action until Friday, February 24, with field events at 1:30 p.m. Track events get underway two hours later at 3:30 p.m. Saturday's action will start at 10 a.m. with the field events and track events will follow at 12:30 p.m.

A full schedule of events can be found here.

The conference will live stream the events on Friday and Saturday. You can watch along here.

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