Three's a Party: Keenan, Andersen & Baxter Qualify for NCAA Championships

NAU's Adam Keenan competing in the hammer throw today.
NAU's Adam Keenan competing in the hammer throw today.

AUSTIN, Texas – For the first time in Lumberjack history, a male/female pair of hammer throwers will represent NAU at NCAA Championships.

Brooke Andersen and Adam Keenan, both of whom claim the school and conference records in their respective event categories, punched their tickets to Eugene, Ore., and NCAA Championships with steady showings during the preliminary round in Texas Thursday.

The third and final nationals qualifying ticket for the Northern Arizona track & field team came from Matt Baxter in the very last event of the evening: the men's 10,000m.

"After day one, you have to call this a huge success," said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Mike Smith. "To have our athletes compete the way they did in a heightened environment, it's great to see. These are the kinds of performances we have prepared our athletes for all year long. For [Keenan, Andersen and Baxter] to pull off what they did, it shows their maturity as athletes, and it's great for our program."

HEADED TO NATIONALS!

It was almost a foregone conclusion that if Andersen could land a hammer in fair territory today, she would be en route to Eugene for nationals and that's exactly what she did. After a little apprehension on her first attempt, Andersen reeled herself in and threw two bombs to close out her day. Her best throw came on her last attempt, slinging a 220-1 (67.09m) toss that was just shy of her personal-best of 221-3.

Andersen's performance today earned her second-place in a field that featured three flights and a total of 48 athletes. This will be Andersen's first trip to Oregon for NCAA Championships, as she becomes only the third athlete in NAU history to qualify for the national meet in the hammer (Lauren Stuart and Anna Soderberg). Additionally, Andersen will be the first Big Sky athlete since Southern Utah's Kayla Kovar in 2015 to compete in the hammer at NCAA's.  

Keenan followed Andersen in the men's hammer throw competition, blasting a 226-0 (68.88m) throw into the Austin air on his first attempt of the day. While it was not a career-best for the Canadian, that is all Keenan would need to advance to the national meet in Eugene. He unintentionally stepped out on his second throw and passed on his third, knowing he had secured a second-place finish in the field and the bid to NCAA's.

This will be Keenan's second appearance at National Championships, as he also competed there in 2016 and registered a first-team All-American performance with a seventh-place throw of 227-10. Like Andersen, he is only the third athlete in NAU history to qualify for NCAA's in the hammer (Pascal Tang and Karim Chester).

Baxter, already a two-time All-American, will be in search of his third such accolade in Eugene after running a 29:54.34 time tonight. The native New Zealander placed fifth overall in the field, earning every inch of the race tonight.

GIVING THEMSELVES A CHANCE

Hurdler Ashley Taylor will look to join Andersen and Keenan on the ride to Eugene, as her 1:00.10 time took 22nd-place in the 400mH event Thursday. Taylor made the cut for Friday's quarterfinals race by 0.07 of a second. However, because there were technical difficulties in timing the first heat, an unusual 27 athletes qualified for the quarterfinals race tomorrow (usually, it is 24). In order to book a spot at nationals, Taylor will have to finish with one of the 12 best times Friday night.

The Lumberjacks had great representation in the 400m dash Thursday night as well, as this season's indoor and outdoor Big Sky Champ in that event, Jasmine Malone, raced with former 400m conference champ Nicole Fotinos against a tough west regional field.

Fotinos' focus and determination, though, was palpable from the moment she set her mark, and it was clear she was not to be deterred. The NAU senior flew out of the blocks and sprinted her way to a new personal-best time of 53.83, which was good for 19th overall. She will compete in the 400m quarterfinals tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 p.m. MT.

Malone competed well, turning in a 54.32 time, but finished with the 28th-best time and did not make the cut for tomorrow's quarterfinals race.

Maggie Carruth saved everyone the drama and just nabbed an auto-bid with a third-place finish in the first heat of the women's 800m. With a time of 2:09.61, Carruth—who won the conference championship in this event two weekends ago—will also run in the quarterfinals Friday, with her race scheduled for 4:30 p.m. MT. Again, just is the case with Taylor and Fotinos, Carruth will need to place in the top 12 to see her way to Eugene.

OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES

Tiana Hatler-Stefick could not have asked for a better start to her competition, as the redshirt-junior from Cottonwood, Ariz., threw a career-best mark on her first attempt from the hammer throw circle. Hatler-Stefick's 196-4.00 (59.85m) toss Thursday morning surpassed her old CB by a full six feet and was the best mark recorded in the first flight, which included 15 other athletes. Hatler-Stefick eventually placed 18th overall in the competition.

Geordie Beamish and Nathan Weitz ran in the men's 1500m. Beamish crossed the finish line with a 4:03.49 time while teammate Weitz posted a 4:01.81 mark. Neither earned a bid to the quarterfinals later this weekend.

A historic season, and the best in the history of the program as far as women's long jump is concerned, came to an end Thursday night for NAU's Shanice McPherson. The 2017 Big Sky Champ indoors and out, as well as the school record holder in the long jump, finished 17th in the field tonight with a meet-best jump of 20-4.25 (6.20m). A phenomenal person on the field and in the classroom, McPherson will undoubtedly be missed as her graduate eligibility is now expired.

Kossi Tchenawou competed in the men's 100m dash, clocking in at 10.38. Another solid performance from an NAU sprinter, Tchenawou placed 34th overall in the field.

FRIDAY'S ACTION

The second day of NCAA West Prelims gets underway at 10 a.m. MT with the women's discus. Track events start at 2:30 p.m. MT with the women's 110mH.

Follow all the action tomorrow: [LIVE STATS | LIVE STREAM | SCHEDULE | TWITTER]