Prior to the start of the weekend’s Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships, NAU’s head track coach Eric Heins was talking about how excited he was that Northern Arizona would be hosting the event because it gave parents and alumni a chance to watch the Lumberjacks compete.
It was the first time in three years that the indoor championships would be held at the Walkup Skydome on the Flagstaff campus and he said he wanted his fan base to see how much the program has grown. He just had to hope for a good performance from his teams.
As it turned out, the men’s and women’s teams both showed well. But the men rocked the house.
The Lumberjack men won their third team championship in four years and set a new conference championship record with their 215 total team points.
In addition, Diego Estrada, the record-setting distance runner from California, was named the men’s MVP for the event. The redshirt junior won three events.
Heins had every reason to expect big things from the men’s team. They went into the weekend with seven athletes leading the conference in 11 different events, and six of those are ranked nationally. The 4×400 relay team also holds the best time in the Big Sky this season.
And they got right down to business as the Championships began Friday.
“Our men put up one of the most impressive first days I’ve ever seen at a Big Sky meet,” Heins said after the opening. They led the field with 73 first-day points, well ahead of second-place Montana State, which was 36 points off the pace.
And the women’s team finished the opening day in second place – which was everything Heins had hoped for since a corps of freshmen in the field events have been carrying much of the load this season.
As it turned out, a senior, Nicole Elliott, came from behind to win the women’s weight throw, with a toss of 64’8.25″. Hers was one of six individual titles the Jacks picked up overall.
Estrada won the mile run, 3,000 meters, and 5,000 meters to become just the fourth male in conference history to win three events at one championship. Earlier in the season, he set new school records in the mile (3:55.48) and 3,000-meter (7:44.63).
The other individual first-place finishes for the Jacks went to Deante Kemper in the high jump (7’0.5″) and Edgar Panford in the triple jump (49’8.25″).
The NAU men dominated the field and distance events. The jumps provided 59 points over the two days and the distance events included three runners in the top five of the 800-meter event, four top finishers in the mile run, four more in the 3K, and five in the 5K that collected 26 points in that event alone.
But Heins had high praise for the team effort that went into the weekend’s success.
“There wasn’t a guy on our team this weekend who didn’t capitalize on being here,” he pointed out, “and nearly every one finished at, or above, their entry rankings.”
The women, too, improved their team finish from last year with a fourth-place finish, getting big contributions from a couple of freshmen who competed in multiple events.
Darriel Banks finished third in the 200 meters (24.57) and fourth in the 60-meter dash (7.57), while Caroline Hogardh also scored in two events, picking up fourth-place finishes in the 800 meters (2:15.64) and mile run (5:03.43).
(Photo: NAU Athletics)