When the Northern Arizona University men and women's track and field teams boarded the bus in Flagstaff and headed for Idaho earlier this week, there was a feeling that something spectacular could happen this weekend.
After a multitude of exciting performances — many of which ended with gold medals around NAU athletes — that promising idea of hoisting two conference trophies has now turned into a reality. For the second time in four seasons and ninth-time overall, the Lumberjack men and women are both track and field champions of the Big Sky Conference.
"It was a huge day for NAU track and field, and for Northern Arizona as a university," said director of track and field Mike Smith. "It's hard to pick one thing about what happened because the performances up and down each event group were absolutely incredible. I couldn't be more proud."
With the team wins, the NAU men (129.5 points) secured their 20th indoor title in program history, and the women (114 points) garnered their 12th. The men beat No. 2 Southern Utah by 29.5 points, and the women edged Montana by 12.
For their efforts, redshirt-senior Shanice McPherson and sophomore Tyler Day of NAU were named the meet's Most Valuable Male and Female Athletes.
After struggling in the mile event Saturday afternoon, Day told Smith he wanted every part of the 3000-meter run. Day went on to win the event, joined by fellow cross country All-American teammates Matt Baxter and Andy Trouard, who finished second and third. Day's 23 total points were the most of any athlete over the weekend.
Just as valuable, however, was McPherson. The two-time Division II long jump champion won that very event Friday night, but came out Saturday and secured a silver in the 60-meter dash and four more points in the 200m finals. McPherson ended the weekend atop the leaderboard with 22 total points. Additionally, she was the first NAU MVP of the indoor meet since 2006.
With six athletes competing in at least one finals event today for the NAU sprints crew, the points were surely going to rack up in favor of the Lumberjacks.
James Fisher once again proved he is the most lethal 200m sprinter in the entire Big Sky Conference, securing his third-straight indoor title and his fifth-straight overall.
With his first-place, gold medal time of 21.44, Fisher became the first Big Sky athlete to ever win three consecutive championships in the 200m event -- which is to also say he is the first conference sprinter to win three 200m indoor championships in general.
If Jasmine Malone brought the fireworks, then her teammate Isaiah Kennedy brought the lighter. Both NAU athletes set new personal bests.
First came Malone's in the 400m dash. Coming in ranked No. 1 in the conference this season, the sophomore from Chandler won the event with a 54.43 mark — 0.69 of a second better than her previous PR.
Malone's gold medal and 10 points Saturday was the first of her young Lumberjacks career. In fact, it was also her first individual all-Big Sky finish. Most impressive, though, about Malone's performance was the fact she became the first Lumberjack since 1992 to win the conference's indoor 400m title and only the second NAU athlete ever to do so. Malone also went onto record an all-Big Sky time in the women's 200m (3rd—24.14).
It was hard to follow up such a showing, but Kennedy answered the bell in the men's 60m dash. There, he flew past the competition in the second of two heats, registering a PR 6.75 time — tying the NAU record and also sliding into No. 5 all-time in the Big Sky. Kennedy joins Vernon Jamison and Kino Carson as the only NAU athletes to ever win the indoor 60m championship.
Keenan got things started on the right foot for the NAU men, earning the gold and 10 points with a 66-2.00 (20.18m) last-chance bomb. For Keenan, it was his third victory of the year and fifth-career win in the weight event. Already ranked No. 32 in the NCAA, Keenan became the first Lumberjack since Chris Durocher in 2009-10 to win the Big Sky weight throw title in back-to-back indoor seasons.
Northern Arizona's Paige Gilchrist came in ranked No. 1 in the women's mile on the Big Sky's performance list this season, and finished in the same victorious fashion. Gilchrist cruised to the first-place win with a 4:48.85 time, becoming the first Lumberjack to win the conference indoor mile title since 2009. In fact, it was also the first Big Sky individual title of any kind for Gilchrist in her career.
While it took her a couple years to get her first conference gold, it only took about another couple hours for Gilchrist to get her second. Practically sealing the championship on the women's side, Gilchrist won the women's 3000m event as well today with a 9:37.58 time.
Kylie Goo, coming in ranked No. 3 in the conference, hustled in for the second-place finish (4:52.34) in the women's mile right behind Gilchrist. The two milers combined for 18 total points.
Even though this was only the second time in seven years the NAU men did not win the gold in the men's mile event, Trouard was able to get the next-best-thing: a second-place finish and eight points with a 4:10.31 time. His Baxter (5th—4:12.46) and Day (6th—4:12.60) combined for seven points in the same event.