After posting the best performance of her college career in the long jump on Friday, former Arizona state champion Kaitlyn Wayne is expected to move up into the ranks of the top 10 jumpers in the Big Sky Conference when the new standings are released.
Wayne won D-III state titles in the long jump, 100 hurdles, and 300 hurdles in her senior year at Monument Valley High School. Now a sophomore at Northern Arizona University, the native of Kayenta, AZ, is beginning the climb to prominence at the next level.
In her last attempt of the day at Friday’s mulsti-school NAU Tune-Up event, she cleared 19-1.25 for a second-place finish in the long jump. Her personal best last season was 17-11.75.
The Tune-Up, held at the Walkup Skydome on NAU’s campus in Flagstaff, was the fourth and final indoor meet of the 2017 season for the Lumberjacks. Approximately 600 athletes climbed the hill to Flag to compete in the event that most use to fine-tune some final adjustments that will help them prepare for conference championships. The 18 universities and colleges that sent teams, or individual athletes, to the event included top-tier schools like Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, and Washington State.
NAU’s men’s team will be trying for its sixth straight title next week when the Big Sky Indoor Championships take place in Pocatello, Idaho.
Last year, the NAU women finished sixth at Conference, but joined the men in expectations this time around. The men were picked No. 1 in the conference’s pre-season polls, while the women collected three first-place votes and were picked to finish second on their side.
Another local athlete made his mark at the Tune-UP. Cade Burks, a freshman from Gilbert’s Perry High School, won the men’s mile event with a time of 4:31.87 – crossing the finish line just 0.16 of a second ahead of second place.
The two other first-place finishes, both on the women’s side, went to weight thrower Brooke Andersen who hit the winning 71-0.75 on her second attempt, and Ashley Taylor who won the 800-meter run with a time of 2:10.33. Both are redshirt juniors; Taylor went into the Tune-Up ranked fourth in the Big Sky in the 800m.
There’s good reason that this year’s Lumberjack squad was given such high expectations in the pre-season. The ‘Jacks are loaded with talent and deep in almost every event.
Last week, the ‘Jacks picked up three “Athlete of the Week” awards from the conference. Paige Gilchrist, who ranks first in the mile and third in the 3000-meters in the conference, posted a time of 16:09.04 in the 5,000-meter event at the Iowa State Classic. That time beat the best mark in the Big Sky this season by over 10 seconds.
Her distance teammate, Matt Baxter, clocked a sizzling 13:44.27 in the men’s 5K, setting the top time for the event in the Big Sky and moving the redshirt junior into fourth-best in both NAU and Big Sky history. As of last week, he was ranked No. 8 in the country.
The third Athlete of the Week was Adam Keenan, last year’s Big Sky champion in the weight throw. Last week he threw a personal best of 67-01.25 at the Don Kirby Invitational in New Mexico for a second-place finish, improving his No. 1 conference ranking in the event by over three feet.
After the Tune-Up, NAU’s first-year head coach Mike Smith appeared pleased with how his athletes performed in their respective events. “Our athletes came out here tonight and really showed just how deep and strong our team is,” he said at the time. “I feel as though we are well-prepared heading into (the) Big Sky (championships) next weekend.”
For the Lumberjacks, Friday’s event couldn’t really be called anything other than a tune-up for a team already solid and proven. Of the 21 athletes NAU sent to the NCAA West Preliminaries last season, 14 are back for the indoor season. And the women are coming off a 2016 outdoor season in which they won their second outdoor title in three years.
The ‘Jacks are locked and loaded, and heading to Pocatello with high expectations. And for good reason.
(Photos: NAU Athletics)