With 12 events scored through the opening two days of the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championship meet, Northern Arizona walked away with four gold medals Friday evening at the Walkup Skydome.
Andy Trouard took gold in the 5,000-meter run and Cameron Rayford did the same in the long jump. The women’s distance medley relay team cruised to a first-place finish, and Helena McLeod wrapped up the night with gold in the long jump.
With both the men and women looking to repeat as Big Sky indoor champions, Northern Arizona tops the standings with 40 points from the men, and the women sit third with 30 points.
The Lumberjacks scored 22 points alone in the 5,000, with Trouard’s first place followed by Matt Baxter, Peter Lomong and Blaise Ferro crossing the finish line in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. After Baxter battled with Southern Utah’s Mike Tate early on, Trouard took control as the race wore on and ran away with the victory.
“It started to slow up a little, but I started to feel good and I just decided to go,” Trouard said, with Northern Arizona planning to push the pace from the start. “I was starting to regret it a little bit. It started to really hurt towards the end, but I was able to hang on.”
Trouard said the early pace, which included a few 66-second laps, was one that seemed impossible to sustain at elevation. He overtook Baxter and Tate and went on to win in 14:20.53, with Tate hanging on for silver at 14:36.37. Southern Utah came through in third as well before Baxter crossed the line at 14:52.06, with Lomong at a nearly identical 14:52.07 and Ferro at 14:58.35.
“Doing this at 7,000 feet is pretty crazy and we paid a little bit for that,” said Lumberjacks head coach Mike Smith. “Andy is one of the best runners in the country right now, he is just on a different level. If he is around late, I don’t know who is going to handle him. Andy would tell you this, too, his teammates set him up pretty well for that.”
Shortly after running the 5,000, Lomong turned around and closed out the distance medley relay, helping the Lumberjacks to another four points with a fifth-place finish. After Cade Burks, Ryan Lanley and James Chevious III had Northern Arizona around seventh with the first three legs of the medley, Lomong passed up a pair of schools as the Lumberjacks squad edged Idaho and Eastern Washington by about two seconds.
Smith said one of the 5,000-meter runners was set to be the miler in the distance medley, but had jokingly claimed they would draw straws after seeing the results of the previous race. In truth, Northern Arizona’s head coach knew all along which runner he would ask to pull off the double duty.
“I can't ask very many people to do that, I wouldn't ask very many people to do that,” Smith said. “We had to make a decision when we look at the 5K and the DMR of how to capitalize on points -- every point matters on the men's competition right now.
“That was a great leg, it was an amazing leg, there's no one in this building that did that turnaround in 20 minutes like that,” Smith added. “It’s just a statement of character, he will do anything for his team.”
While the men fought back to pick up a few points in the distance medley, the women were in cruise control from the opening leg as Emma Keenan put away the rest of the Big Sky thanks to a dominant 1,200-meter run.
“It was so cool. In the first lap of the 1,200 I was just laughing,” said Paige Gilchrist, who ran the mile on the last leg and felt comfortable since the team had the cushion it needed for 10 points early on.
Looking to possibly come away with a national qualifying time, Northern Arizona sent out Keenan in the 1,200, Jasmine Malone in the 400, Ashley Taylor for the 800 and Gilchrist to anchor the race with the mile.
Taylor and Keenan had previously finished second and third in the 800 preliminaries earlier in the day, while Malone took second in the 400 and first in the 200 prelims Friday.
“Emma Keenan took us out on a great note. I’m really proud of Jasmine, I know she has a ton of events this weekend. And Ashley, she has been a standout for us on everything she has done this year,” Gilchrist said. “Going into this I just had no fear, I was just so confident.”
The group, which finally came together as part of Northern Arizona’s conference plan last week, ran an 11:34.01 to break the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championship meet record, beating second-place Sacramento State by 42 seconds.
On the field, McLeod capped off the night with a gold in the long jump and Tiana Hatler-Stefick took bronze in the shot put, hitting 14.32 meters on her second-to-last throw after fouls on three of the first four.
Meanwhile Rayford started Northern Arizona’s medal count with a close victory in the long jump, beating Idaho’s Kasin Pendergrass by half an inch. Fighting off jumps by Pendergrass throughout the competition, Rayford hit 7.38 meters on his final jump to beat out the 7.37 meters in second place.
“I just focused up, visualized what I needed to do and I just got after it,” Rayford said. “This is my first gold medal that I have ever won in college and throughout high school. To have my family here and all my friends, and to be at home, it was a really good experience.”
Field events begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, starting with the women’s weight throw highlighted by Northern Arizona’s Brooke Andersen, and the track events get underway at noon with the mile, where five women and five men will race for the Lumberjacks.