Northern Arizona’s women dominated the rest of the conference en route to defending their Big Sky Conference Indoor Championship Saturday afternoon, while the men held off Southern Utah with a few crucial performances late in the day to win their seventh straight.
Beginning with a Big Sky Conference record throw of 22.25 meters by Brooke Andersen in the weight throw, Northern Arizona’s women kept knocking off records as they totaled 150 points to beat second-place Sacramento State’s 99.5. The final total ranked as the highest for a team at the conference meet since Sacramento State’s 167.5 in 2010.
“Being at home and knowing we were such a heavy favorite, how do we access our best selves and how do we be the best track and field team we can be, that’s the challenge,” said track and field head coach Mike Smith. “The women's team responded to that in a big way.”
Forced to sweat for the early portion of the championship meet’s third and final day, Northern Arizona’s men locked up the victory thanks to a crucial performance by Obang Odol, Matthew Kisiel and Trevon Bosley in the high jump and an upset by Kossi Tchenawou in the 200-meter dash.
“Those high-jumpers, they haven't jumped like that,” Smith said. “There was an energy in there I haven't seen all season long, just a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Finishing with 137.5 points to Southern Utah’s 111, Northern Arizona's men closed out the meet strongly, adding nine more points to its lead in the final two track events.
While Andy Trouard earned the men’s most valuable athlete award for his 21 total points in the 5000m, mile and 3000m combined, and Andersen won the women’s most outstanding award for her record-breaking throw, no athlete walked away with more gold than Jasmine Malone.
Along with tying the conference record with a 23.75 in the 200 meters, Malone broke the 20-year 400m record with a time of 52.39 seconds and put herself in contention for an NCAA bid. Earning two individual golds, Malone’s legs also came through in Friday’s distance medley relay that broke the Big Sky championship meet record and closed out the day with a leg in the 3:40.23, record-breaking 4x400-meter run with Ashley Taylor, Miracle Onyemaobi and Nicole Fotinos.
“Best-case scenario. Honestly, I went into all the races thinking this is what I want, I want to go for that gold,” Malone said. “We all know we want to go 1-2-3-4 or whatever the case is, so it’s awesome having (Fotinos) push me, and me push her and our teammates pushing us.”
Malone’s 10 points in both the 200m and 400m led the way for a large Northern Arizona contingent in the shorter distances. Fotinos, Jada Jackson and Onyemaobi added another 10 points in the 200, while Fotinos and Onyemaobi brought in another 13 points in the 400m.
Fotinos left the meet with a bronze in the 200m, silver in the 400m and gold in the 4x400m, capping off her senior indoor season with the best 400m time (53.18) of her career.
“It wasn't expected at all actually. We were told to go pretty easy the first day and then come back with all we have got,” Fotinos said. “Didn’t expect it to be a huge PR for both of us.”
While Ashley Taylor and Emma Keenan finished first and third in the 800m, continuing Northern Arizona’s dominance in the shorter distances, no race at the meet proved more impressive than the women’s mile.
As freshman Delaney Rasmussen took gold in the race, passing senior teammate Paige Gilchrist on the final lap, three more Lumberjacks added points to Northern Arizona’s total in the race. Pipi Eitel took fourth, missing a podium sweep by 0.19, followed by sixth-place Kylie Goo and eighth-place Hannah Behunin. The 27 total points in the race beat the total points of the three women’s teams, Idaho State, Portland State and Montana.
MEN HOLD ON
While Northern Arizona’s distance quartet of Trouard, Peter Lomong, Matt Baxter and Blaise Ferro came up with team wins in the mile and 3000m during the day, it was the team’s sprinters coming away with medals consistently and beating out Southern Utah as well.
Tchenawou started his day with a bronze in the 60m, finishing just behind teammate Isaiah Kennedy, and the Lumberjacks outscored the Thunderbirds in the event as Tyren Wolfe took sixth and Khalil Dorsey came through seventh. Roughly 30 minutes later, Tchenawou and Wolfe earned podium spots in the 200m with a gold and bronze, respectively, followed by James Fisher in fifth.
At nearly the same exact time inside the track, Odol, Kisiel and Bosley did their best to cancel out Southern Utah’s Frank Harris in the high jump. Easily winning the Big Sky title with a jump of 2.16 meters, Harris stood as the lone Thunderbird to score for his team in the event. Obang tied for fourth with a 2.06m, followed by Kisiel and Bosley each clearing 2.03m. The group came together to score 8.5 points, limiting Harris’ advantage.
“You are not thinking from the first heat, it just doesn't usually go like that,” Smith said of Tchenawou 200m gold coming from the first heat. “If you were in the building during that 20- or 30-minute window of time at the meet, that really changed everything. That's the moment the Southern Utah coach walked over to me said congratulations.”
Smith also singled out a surprising result in the 800m, with Southern Utah’s Kasey Knevelbaard finishing third while Ryan Lanley and Cade Burks nearly equaled the point total with sixth- and seventh-place finishes. Knevelbaard held the fastest 800m time in the conference this season and dominated the mile to start Saturday’s track events.
“We thought they had the favorite in the 800m. At the same time he didn't win, we got two guys in the final,” Smith said. “At the same time, our guys are clearing heights; that just shifted the momentum of the meet for us. You could feel the energy of it.”
Finishing with a 4:10.58, Knevelbaard backed up his No. 5 national ranking in the event. However, the Lumberjacks again held the team edge, as Touard took silver in 4:12.30, with Lomong fourth, Baxter fifth and Ferro eighth.
The group wrapped up its grueling meet with the 3000m later in the day Saturday, with an eventful battle against Southern Utah’s Mike Tate, Matthew Wright and Nate Osterstock. As the two schools held the top seven spots in the race for much of its 10-lap run, the group shuffled late.
After Trouard and Tate paced the field for much of the early going, Lomong moved past the rest of the field and pushed the pace. Baxter followed suit and ended up with the silver medal after Tate regained the lead on the final lap with Lomong slipping to bronze. While Wright broke up Northern Arizona’s pack with a fourth-place finish, Ferro came through in fifth and Trouard held on for sixth ahead of Osterstock, giving Northern Arizona a 21-17 win in the race, locking up the title defense.
“For Tate, he was controlling the race. I knew if I could take him a little faster, the guys behind me had a chance to catch him at the end,” Lomong said. “It’s all mind games and tactics and teamwork. I think one thing about us, we brought cross country to track. That's how we win things, that’s our mindset on it.”
Northern Arizona will return to the track as a team in mid-March for the beginning of the outdoor season. In the meantime, a group of athletes will wait to see if they remain inside the top 16 of their events nationally.
Andersen is a lock to return to the NCAA meet in the hammer throw and Malone appears to have reached the meet with her 400m time, while Taylor (800m) and Gilchrist (mile and 5000m) will possibly depend on the times of others around the country. Trouard is in contention in the 3000m and 5000m, while Baxter sits on the bubble of the 3000m.