Track teams compete in the eerie quiet of NAU Skydome

The Lumberjacks invited seven track & field teams to their NAU Team Challenge today.

But they aren’t inviting any spectators.

It should provide an eerily quiet afternoon without cheering fans in the stands, as the Jacks compete against in-state rivals, Arizona State and Grand Canyon University, as well as teams from California and Nevada.

Spectators have been denied access to the meet for safety reasons, as the 33-year-old J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome undergoes a major renovation that won’t be completed until the end of the summer – hopefully in time for the major revenue-generating part of the sports programs, the football games.

The track & field team will be able to host three games in the dome this season, but all will be held in the silent vacuum of the empty stands.

The structure, which at one time was touted as the largest clear-span timber dome in the world, shut down after the 2010 football season and crews have been working feverishly to get it up and running again in time for the 2011 season.

While the inconvenience to the other sports has been annoying, the upside to the project is obvious.  A facelift on the athletic facilities is always a great recruiting tool, as potential signees get the campus tour.

Maybe it’s working already.  The Jacks just signed five distance runners to its women’s squad, three of whom are local products and should give the program a lift next year.

NAU’s Director of Track & Field and Cross country Eric Heins got a two-for-one deal with the Freeman twins from Greeway High School in Phoenix.

And a heckuva deal, it was.

Shayla was a three-time cross country First Team All-State selection and a region champion in 2008-09.  She broke the school record in the 3,200m (11:42.93), and had a hand in setting additional records in the 4×800 (9:47.45) and distance medley relay (13:17.40).

Kayla was a two-time selection to the First Team All-State in cross country, a regional champion in the 800m and 3,200m, and state runner-up in the 3,200m.  She also holds her share of school records: 1,600m (5:15.19), 3,200m (11:22.99), 4×800 (9:47.45), and distance medley relay (13:17.40).

Heins also snagged Kylee Kieser, who ran for three years at Casa Grande High School, where she was the regional champion in the mile and two-mile events.  During her senior season at Marcos de Niza in Tempe she won the Division II state cross country title.  She still holds four records at Casa Grande.

Add to that trio a couple of California runners and you have a solid 2011 recruiting class.  Kenzie Estes was the team captain at Riverside Poly HS, where she earned Second Team All-League honors.  Luren Justus from Glendora HS is a two-time San Gabriel Valley Tribune Cross Country Runner of the Year.

And by the time this group gets to campus for next season, they should have fans once again to watch them compete.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)