AZ colleges open track season at Lumberjack Invitational

They’re off and running.  And winning.

All three Division I colleges in Arizona gathered together over the weekend in Flagstaff to try to determine just how prepared they are for a new track & field season.

The results from the Lumberjack Invitational, hosted by Northern Arizona University, seem to have pleased just about everybody.

NAU qualified 19 of its athletes for the Big Sky Indoor Championships next month, which is more than double the number that earned conference auto-bids last year.  The Jacks qualified someone in nearly every event of the day.

In addition, NAU came away with three individual titles, two of which went to local athletes.  Tim Frericks, a junior from Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, joined with Rochelle Kanuho, a junior from Coconino High in Flagstaff, to sweep the men’s and women’s 3,000-meter run.

The other individual title went to a sophomore from Saudi Arabia, Adel al Nasser, who won the 400-meter dash.

NAU has another reason to be looking forward to this season, since they will host six indoor meets this year – double what they were able to schedule in 2011 when the Walkup Skydome was undergoing major renovations.

For the Arizona State Sun Devils, it was some impressive times and an individual automatic bid for the NCAA Championships that made the trip to the high country worthwhile.

The team set some of the top early-season marks in the country and Ryan Milus earned his automatic bid by posting a winning time of 6.59 seconds in the 60-meter dash, passing the qualifying standard of 6.60.

A redshirt sophomore from Hamilton High School in Chandler, Milus goes down in the ASU record books with the second-fastest indoor time in the 60-meter, and likely the fastest time in the country so far this season.

ASU posted other top performances, including Chris Benard‘s win in the triple jump; his leap of 52’11.50″ broke a 12-year-old indoor record.  Chris Burrows, running in his first race as a Sun Devil, set the top time in the country (21.39) in the 200-meter dash, while Jordan Clarke‘s throw of 62’09.25″ was also a top collegiate mark.

On the women’s side, the Sun Devils picked up wins in a couple of field events, as Chelsea Cassulo won the weight throw and Anna Jelmini topped the field in the shot put.  On the track, Sarah Green won the 400-meter run and Shelby Houlihan finished first in the 800 meters.

The University of Arizona checked in to the event with the No. 9-ranked men’s team in the country and the No. 10 women’s team.

Brigetta Barrett, the 2011 NCAA Indoor Champion in the high jump, set the tone by capturing the first Wildcat win of the day, clearing 6’2″.  On the boys’ side, juniors Nick Ross and Edgar Rivera-Morales kept the ball rolling with a tie for a first-place win in the event.  Both cleared 7’3″ – which drew raves from head coach, Fred Harvey.

“Nick and Edgar both going 7-3, you have to get excited about that!” said Harvey afterward.  “There is a lot to be excited about and there’s a lot of promise, but we know that, if we’re going to win titles, there is a lot more work that has to go into it.”

The women’s ‘A’ squad in the 4×400 relay put an exclamation mark on the Cats’ success in the season opener, winning the last track event of the day with a time of 3:43.96.

Three of the four members of the relay team are local products, including Shapri Romero (St. Mary’s HS), Tamara Pridgett (Rincon HS), and Echos Blevins (South Mountain HS).  The fourth is Ariel Coleman from Texas.

All three schools have some time off to prepare for the weekend of Jan. 27-28, when they each face their next competition.  NAU will participate in the Mountain T’s Invitational in Flag, ASU will travel to College Station to compete in the Texas A&M Challenge, and the Cats will be at the University of Arkansas for the Razorback Invitational.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)