AUSTIN, Texas – Four Lumberjack athletes opened things up for the Northern Arizona University track and field team at the 90th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, presented by Spectrum Thursday, representing themselves and the university well en route to some specular showings.
Two seasons ago, Brooke Andersen competed at the 88th hosting of Texas Relays and registered a second-place finish with a meet-best mark of 190-5 (58.05m). Certainly nothing to scoff at, but since then the NAU redshirt-junior has been so impressive that any throw that travels less than 200' is a rare, rare occurrence.
Today, on one of the sport's biggest stages, Andersen's best hammer throw toss into the Austin air had a first-place distance of 220-10 (67.32m)—a mere five inches off her career-best mark set two weekends ago at the UC Irvine Spring Break Invitational. Andersen, ranked No. 2 in the NCAA, is now a perfect 2-for-2 in event victories during this young outdoor season and has eclipsed double-digit wins for her career, boasting 10.
"I think how she held herself today was very encouraging," said NAU Throws Coach Nathan Ott. "She didn't have a lot of great throws, but she was patient and waited for the right opportunity. The biggest thing for her was that she didn't get into her own head and was able to stay calm. That's something we've been working on with her because it has affected her in the past, so it's exciting to see she's gaining confidence and an understanding of her abilities. To perform the way she did today under the kind of pressure the competition brought is impressive."
Her fellow teammate and Big Sky hammer throw record holder on the men's side, Adam Keenan, also tested his skills today in Austin and did not disappoint. Keenan, coming off a first-place win at UC Irvine to begin 2017, actually surpassed the mark he logged at that event with a season-best distance of 225-7 (68.77m) Thursday afternoon.
He finished fifth overall in a field that featured the nation's No. 1, 2, 5 and 10 ranked hammer throwers in the nation. Keenan, to his credit, looks as though he will maintain that No. 2 spot in the NCAA with his performance today.
"It's funny because as all the coaches were saying, it felt like a nationals preview out there," said Ott. "This was the deepest field [Keenan] has ever competed in. Like Andersen, he held himself well today and stayed composed. This was arguably the most consistent he's ever been, which is reassuring considering that there's still more in the tank. So far this season, his average mark has been very good and he hasn't any 'bad' throws."
Tiana Hatler-Stefick also represented the NAU throws unit today, competing in the first heat of the women's hammer. There, Hatler-Stefick penciled in a meet-best throw of 183-6 (55.94m). She placed second in heat and 11th overall.
"For [Hatler-Stefick], coming off health issues and such, to bounce back and have the kind of performance she did today was great for her," said Ott. "It was close to personal-best and for someone who really isn't used to this kind of competition and stage, it just further builds up her confidence. She knows she has the tools to compete with these types of athletes, and it just serves as a good learning experience."
On the track side for the Lumberjacks, Ashley Taylor was the only NAU athlete to compete Thursday in Austin. Taylor ran in her best event, the 400-meter hurdles, and went for 33rd-place among of field of 82 registered athletes with a season-best time of 1:01.17. She ran in the second of eight heats, finishing seventh in a strong heat that featured two final qualifiers and four athletes that finished in the top-15.
Texas Relays continues tomorrow, beginning bright and early for the Lumberjacks at 7:35 a.m. with the preliminary race of the women's 4x100-meter relay. For continuous updates throughout the day, make sure to check out the live stats page as well as follow us on Twitter, @nautrackfieldxc. Additionally, a full schedule can be found here.