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NAU Cross Country Matt Baxter joins NAZ Elite

Former Northern Arizona runner Matt Baxter races to the finish line during the 2018 installment of the George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park. Baxter has joined professional running team NAZ Elite, which is based out of Flagstaff.

Matt Baxter didn't waste any time getting a win under his belt as a professional athlete.

The NAZ Elite rookie cruised to a first-place finish in the 5,000-meter run at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships on Friday, clocking a 14:04.44 in his pro debut.

The runner-up, Oli Chignell, crossed the finish line in 14:11.92 of the senior division run.

Baxter, a New Zealand native, joined NAZ Elite in January not too long after helping Northern Arizona University win its third straight NCAA Division I cross country title.

NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said he's glad they decided to compete in the New Zealand race, giving Baxter a chance to show off his fitness while chasing down his first national title.

"The opportunity to win a national title doesn't come along every day, and it's important to give an athlete a chance to compete in championship environments. Matt is a prime-time player," Rosario said. "The bigger the stage, the better he performs, and that's a rare quality. The sky is the limit for Matt Baxter."

The stage will get bigger for Baxter quickly as his pro career unfolds. He's scheduled to compete in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships on March 30, where he will be joined by teammate Stephanie Bruce in Denmark.

And on Saturday, NAZ Elite's Kiya Dandena will race in the USATF 15k Championships in Jacksonville.

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