A fourth-place finish for the Northern Arizona University men’s track & field team at this season’s Big Sky Conference outdoor championships brought an unexpected end to a five-year run of conference titles.
But the women’s team may be just getting started on its win steak.
The NAU women’s team won its second consecutive Big Sky outdoor title, securing a place in the program’s history books in the process. This was the third title in four years, which makes this women’s squad just the second ever to accomplish that feat.
And, going into the final day of competition last weekend, it didn’t look like that was going to happen. The NAU women were sitting in seventh place and needing to make up a lot of ground – which they did, roaring past the field to finish with 125 points, just nine points ahead of runner-up Montana.
“Coming into today, we knew day two was going to have to be very big for us,” said NAU Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Mike Smith, going into Saturday’s competition. “We asked them to do a lot today, and they came through.”
The 4×100 relay team got the mission started by winning the first event of the day, with Clarissa Maxey, Nicole Fotinos, Shanice McPherson, and Jasmine Malone (pictured above) clocking a winning time of 46.66.
Malone and Fotinos later stepped in to help win the 4×400 relay, joining with Ashley Taylor and Maggie Carruth for the victory that would give the Lumberjacks a four-point lead going into the final event of the day.
Earlier, Malone also brought home the gold by winning the 400 meters in a time of 53.63, which is the ninth fastest time in Big Sky history. Fotinos was right there with her teammate at the finish line, posting a 53.97 for second place.
Three more runners from the relay events continued to contribute points with top finishes in other individual events. Carruth won the 800-meter title (2:07.38) and was runner-up in the 1,500 meters (4:25.02), while Taylor took second in the 400-meter hurdles (58.98) and McPherson added a second-place finish in the 100 meters with a PR of 11.60.
In the field events, Julia Viberg contributed to the scoring with a second-place discus throw of 163’06”.
At the end of the day, seven women had combined to produce 17 All-Big Sky performances.
The women’s team was at the top of the pre-season poll coming into the season, as was the men’s team. And that’s what made the men’s fourth-place finish that much more disappointing – and unexpected.
But there’s always an end to any streak, even for a program that has built a small dynasty on the track like NAU has done in recent years. The men’s team was shooting for its 12th consecutive title, combining indoor and outdoor seasons.
The men, too, used the relays to chalk up points, winning the 4×100 (James Fisher, Tyren Wolfe, Kossi Tchenawou, Isaiah Kennedy) in a time of 40.49. Tchenawou was also the top individual performer for the Lumberjacks, bringing home the silver in two events, the 100 meters (10.37) and the 200 (21.11).
The women’s success earned Smith the Big Sky Women’s Coach of the Year honors, in just his first season directing the program. After hiring him away from Georgetown University last August, he was assigned full-time duties over both the cross country and track & field programs.
By winning the Big Sky Conference championship in the outdoor season, it marks the first time in 11 years that the NAU women’s program has captured the “Triple Crown” – awarded to a program that secures three conference titles in the same year: cross country, indoor T&F, and outdoor T&F.
Next up are the NCAA West Regionals in Austin, TX, on May 25-27. A select group from NAU will be participating.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)