Redemption Achieved: Baxter Earns First-Team All-American Honors, Keenan Nabs Second-Team

Northern Arizona's Matt Baxter.
Northern Arizona's Matt Baxter.

EUGENE, Ore. – Northern Arizona's Matt Baxter came into tonight's 10,000-meter race at NCAA Division I Championships seeking redemption for a disappointing 5,000m race at indoor championships in March, and he achieved his goal Wednesday night on the most iconic track in America.

Tonight, Baxter became only the third athlete in NAU history and eighth in Big Sky history to garner first-team All-American accolades in the 10K race at outdoor nationals. Officially, the New Zealander clocked in with a 29:09.83 time and a seventh-place finish—improving 11 spots compared to the No. 16 ranking he wore coming into the race.

In the context of NCAA Championships and the 10,000m event, Baxter's time tonight ranks first all-time in Lumberjack history and even bested NAU legend Futsum Zienasellassie's 29:10.68 mark registered at outdoor nationals last season. As most NAU fanatics will remember, Zienasellassie was the national 10K runner-up in 2016, which really speaks to the type of race that was run tonight.

Additionally, with his performance Wednesday, Baxter secured his third All-American accolade of the 2016-17 season: first-team in cross country, second-team in indoor track and, obviously, first-team in outdoor track).

"I'm definitely excited with how the race turned out," said Baxter. "I'm excited I had something left at the end as well because a few races recently I haven't. That has been a bit of a downfall of mine, but I'm happy to end this season on a high note and with three All-American statuses."  

Despite not having the kind of meet he envisioned, Northern Arizona's Adam Keenan still made school and conference history in the men's hammer throw event this afternoon at 2017 NCAA Division I National Championships.

With a meet-best throw of 226-4 (68.98-meters) on his third and final attempt from the hammer circle, Keenan earned 11th-place and became the first hammer throw athlete in the history of the Big Sky to garner All-American honors in consecutive seasons at NCAA Championships. The Canadian throws stud came into the competition ranked No. 11 in the country and exited in the same fashion after eight different athletes in the field surpassed the 70-meter mark. At 2016 outdoor nationals, only five such athletes threw past that distance.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't piece together the meet I wanted to today, but I was lucky to just be a part of a strong field," said Keenan immediately following Wednesday's competition. "This is the strongest it has ever been in the history of the national hammer event. To be a part of that and contribute to that was a great feeling."

Keenan's sentiments certainly hold true, especially when one considers that the 2017 NCAA National Champion—Cornell's Rudy Winkler—logged a winning throw of 243-2 (74.12m) on the third of his six attempts Wednesday. Of the 96 champions in the history of the national hammer throw competition, only 13 athletes have thrown better than that mark.

Keenan ends his NAU and collegiate career as one of the best throwers in the history of the Lumberjack track & field program and Big Sky Conference. In total, Keenan tallied 13 event victories—five in the weight and eight in the hammer—and was a perfect 4-for-4 in conference championships, going back-to-back in 2016 and 2017 in the men's weight and hammer throw events. Most recently, Keenan notched a new personal-best at outdoor conference championships in mid-May and reset the Big Sky record (one he recorded at 2016 outdoor conference) with a 230-3 (70.18m) toss.

"Like I've said before, coming to NAU was the best decision of my life," said Keenan. This meet doesn't sum up the two years, the two seasons I've had here. I'm so lucky to have worked with athletes like Brooke [Andersen], Shawn [Collins], Julia [Viberg] and a coach like Coach Ott."

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Lumberjacks have one more athlete competing at NCAA Championships, and that would be Big Sky hammer throw record holder Brooke Andersen at 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon. This will be Andersen's first time competing at outdoor nationals, and she goes into tomorrow's hammer event as the No. 3 ranked thrower in the country.