COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Two of the top distance athletes at Northern Arizona University and in the nation competed in the men's 5000-meter event at NCAA Indoor Championships Friday night, with sophomore Tyler Day earning first-team All-American status and Matt Baxter nabbing second-team honors.
When it was all said and done, it was Day finishing eighth amongst an extremely talented field—one that included eventual champion Edward Cheserek of Oregon—with a 13:53.93 time. Because he placed within the top half of the field, Day became only the fourth athlete in both NAU and Big Sky history to earn first team All-American accolades at indoor nationals in the 5K run. The last 'Jack to do so was Futsum Zienasellassie in 2016.
Day was anything but a lock for the national meet tonight, as his personal-best 13:49.53 mark recorded at the Iowa State Classic earlier this season ranked No. 17 in the nation—also known as "the first man out."
However, with a little good fortune that seems to come to those who work as hard as Day does, an athlete ranked ahead of him scratched his eligibility for the 5K run and gave the sophomore from Gilbert, Ariz., a chance to showcase his abilities on the national stage. As tonight's performance proves, Day made the most of his opportunity.
Considering his finish at NCAA Cross Country National Championships in November, Day has now become the first Arizona state high school athlete to earn All-American status at least twice in the same academic year in NAU history.
"Day is a sophomore that raced like a seasoned veteran tonight," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Mike Smith. "He display patience throughout the entire race, and he was able to move into scoring position late because of it. For indoor track, this is the biggest stage in our sport, and it's easy to come here and be overwhelmed by it all. Day wasn't though, and the poise he showed tonight was well beyond his years."
For his teammate Baxter, though, it was a much different story tonight on the track. With the field's eighth-best time coming in, Baxter lost his shoe early in the competition and was clearly unable to race to his full capabilities.
Despite the blow-out, though, Baxter was still able to get 14th with a 14:08.28 time. For his incredible efforts, Baxter earned second-team All-American honors.
At NAU, our official branding hashtag is "#NAUStrong." It accompanies every tweet and post, and can be seen almost anywhere around campus. Tonight, Baxter didn't have the race he expected or hoped for, and he will be the first to admit as much. But more important than a time or accolade is the determination he displayed when the lights were brightest. Day was sensational and you can't take anything away from what he did Friday, but Baxter really showed the entire NCAA what it really means to embody and live up to that mantra of #NAUStrong.
"If you do this long enough, you see a lot of crazy things happen that you just can't account for," said Smith. "When things happens, such as losing a shoe mid-race, the athlete always has a choice: they can use it as an excuse, or they can continue to compete to the best of their abilities. Even though he ran without a shoe, Baxter acted like nothing happened. He raced competitively the entire time and his response to do so was reflexive. His decision to persevere speaks to the athlete and person he is."
Indoor nationals still have another day of competition, and Lumberjack fans can catch Big Sky record holder Brooke Andersen in the women's weight throw event tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 MT.