Josh DeKonty and Rochelle Kanuho will be among the first to step onto the track at the University of Texas to represent Northern Arizona University at the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
The local athletes will be part of a 16-athlete contingent – 10 men and six women – making the trip from Flagstaff to Austin, Tex., to test the strength of the Lumberjack program on a national stage. The men’s team won the Big Sky Conference Championships a couple of weeks ago, winning 10 events and breaking the conference record by scoring 221 team points.
It was a big day for the NAU women as well, as they climbed from their eighth-place finish last year to take third place this year with 107 team points.
That conference title gave NAU a sweep this year, since the Jacks also won championships in cross country and indoor T&F – thus earning Eric Heins his 10th Big Sky Coach of the Year award.
DeKonty, a senior from Highland High School in Gilbert, went on to Mesa Community College before joining the NAU track team. He won the men’s long jump at the Big Sky Championships with a leap of 23’9.5″.
Kanuho is a junior from Coconino High School in Flagstaff, where she was the regional Most Valuable Athlete in 2005 and 2006. She had a break-out year as a sophomore at NAU, leading the women’s squad in five of her six races in the 10,000 meters event, and was the only Lumberjack to compete in two individual events at this year’s conference championships, entering the 10,000- and 5,000-meter races.
The pair will be joined by Jordan Chipangama and Brittany Price, the four NAU competitors scheduled to compete in tomorrow’s opening day of the three-day preliminary round.
Chipangama was key to the men’s victory in the conference championships, competing in eight events and accumulating 26 points enroute to being named the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Athlete.
He won the conference title in the men’s 1,500 meters with a time of 3:52.58, and had two teammates also scoring in the event. John Yatsko finished just off the pace, coming in second in 3:54.20, and Chris Ganem took sixth (3:55.87) to give the Jacks a total of 21 points in that one event alone. Yatsko is a senior from McClintock High School in Tempe.
The men’s distance and field events are a strong suit for the Jacks. Caleb Hoover won the conference title in the 5,000 meters with a time of 14:50.18, Chipangama took second, and three others finished in the top 10: Yatsko in fifth, Alejandro Montano in sixth, and Balbi Gebreyohanns in seventh. Montano is a freshman from Catalina High School in Tucson.
And in the triple jump, NAU swept the top three places to score 24 points toward the team effort. Edgar Panford defended his indoor title by going 49’2″ and teammates DeKonty (47’0.75″) and Thremaine Johnson (46’11.4″) followed. Johnson is a senior from Central High School in Phoenix.
The Jacks will also have several other top finishers involved this weekend. Sophomore Lauren Stuart broke the school record in the hammer throw at the championships to finish runner-up, and Deante Kemper, who is having a impressive freshman season, won the men’s high-jump title.
Add to that Adel Al Nasser, who successfully defended his indoor title in the 400 meters with a time of 46.71, and a discus title from Karl Gehrke with a toss of 173’2″.
The men’s 4×400 relay team will also bring a conference title to the Prelims. A clocking of 3:10.08 was posted by Nasser, Arnaud Froidmont, Miles Di Sabella, and Givens. Di Sabella is a junior from Westwood High School in Mesa.
At stake this weekend are the berths in the NCAA National Outdoor Championships, which will be held June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)