The Big Sky Conference has declared its women's soccer tournament championship match between the University of Montana and Northern Arizona University, which was scheduled to be played Saturday afternoon at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, a no-contest due to COVID-19 protocols within NAU's program.
As a result, and after conferring with the conference's Olympic Sports Committee, Montana has been declared the Big Sky champion and will advance as the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tourney that's scheduled to take place in North Carolina beginning Wednesday, April 28.
The Grizzlies will learn who their first-round opponent is when the NCAA releases the bracket Monday.
"We regret that these two deserving teams, both of which won their divisions in impressive fashion during our regular season, will not have the opportunity to determine our champion on the pitch," Big Sky Conference Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said. "We feel for Northern Arizona's student-athletes and coaches who worked so hard to reach this moment, and hope that everyone involved remains safe and healthy. At the same time, we will look forward to cheering on Montana as the Griz proudly represent our conference in the national tournament."
Due to privacy concerns, the conference will not provide additional details.
Just as soon as the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks football team returned to a normal playing routine, the six-game spring schedule is coming to an end.
Saturday's 1 p.m. kickoff against the Idaho Vandals (2-3) will conclude the season as NAU (2-2) returns to the Walkup Skydome for the first time since the opener against Southern Utah on Feb. 27.
It'll be just the second time this season that NAU has played back-to-back games, with the original meeting with Idaho on March 13 delayed due to COVID-19 protocols within the Vandals program.
Though they have played just four games, the Lumberjacks have seen development at quarterback from first-year starter Keondre Wudtee, and a defense filled with underclassmen and recent arrivals to the program.
Both played pivotal roles in last week's 28-20 victory in Cedar City, Utah, with Wudtee recording three total touchdowns against Southern Utah while passing for 289 yards and rushing for 38. The senior was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his role in the win.
"He's mature; he communicates well on the sideline. He had some great thoughts at halftime and is very, very competitive but very calm," Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball. "He doesn't get frustrated. He manages the game very well, and he's probably one of, if not the, smartest football player I've ever been around."
On the other side of the ball, NAU's defense continued its progress ahead of the fall season. Filled with freshmen and transfers, the Lumberjacks stayed close to the Thunderbirds early on courtesy of a few crucial stops on third down in the first half.
Defending Idaho is a bit of a mystery because it is not known who will be at quarterback for the Vandals.
Mike Beaudry opened the season as the starter for the Vandals, leading the team to an upset of Eastern Washington in the opener before falling to UC Davis. Beaudry, however, has thrown just nine passes since the first two games, all coming against Idaho State on April 3.
Coverage of the finale will begin at noon on the Lumberjack Radio Network, with the game also available to stream on Pluto TV channel 1058.
Track and field
The Northern Arizona throwers excelled in Nevada while the distance crew went to work in Virginia.
All 13 throwers who competed Friday finished within the top eight of their respective events.
The men’s shot put was championed by senior Parker Joens, throwing not only a personal best, but a new UNLV Myron Partridge Stadium facility record of 19.01 meters. This mark lands Joens at the top of the conference and currently ranks 19th in the NCAA.
Fellow Lumberjack senior Nick Coghill placed second and also threw a personal best of 18.33 meters, which currently ranks third in the Big Sky.
Sophomore Jake Arnold (17.50m) and freshmen Parker Bays (16.11m) and Jake Tucker (15.40m) rounded out the men's shot put placing fourth, fifth and eighth respectively.
The women’s shot put was dominated by freshman Alaina Diggs, who threw a personal best of 16.13 meters to earn her the No. 1 mark in the conference and 39th in the NCAA right now.
Freshman Carly Watts (14.21m) and junior Matilde Roe (14.11m) completed the women’s shot put in third and fourth respectively.
The men’s and women’s hammer throw was also successful for the Lumberjacks. Senior Jacob Kaufman (59.53m) and freshman CJ McMullen (53.46m) competed, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
In the women’s hammer, freshmen Kimberly Buchanan (52.13m) and McKenna Chaney (52.00m) and sophomore Jennifer Slater (51.27m) placed third, fourth and fifth.
Meanwhile, five men and three women ran in the 5,000-meter race.
Freshman Santiago Gomez-Prosser led the Lumberjack men, placing 11th overall with a time of 13:51.46. Junior Theo Quax placed 18th with a time of 13:55.47. Senior John Shea finished with a time of 14:09.58 to place 26th.
Caleb Easton (sophomore) and Aldo Marquez (senior) placed 28th and 49th overall with times of 14:12.64 and 14:34.59 respectively.
On the women’s side, senior Jeralyn Poe led NAU finishing fourth overall with a top conference time of 15:49.52. Fellow senior Mikayla Malaspina finished directly behind Poe in fifth with a time of 16:00.51. In her outdoor season debut, junior Jessa Hanson placed ninth with a time of 16:06.73.
The throws crew will compete again Saturday at the UNLV Silver State Classic beginning with the women’s discus at 10 a.m.
The Lumberjacks placed a league-high tying four athletes on the 2021 Big Sky All-Conference teams that were announced on Friday. Freshman Ekaterina Malakhova led NAU's four honorees as one of five golfers on the All-Big Sky First Team.
NAU's junior class of Aleksandra Chekalina, Ashley Croft and Elle Kocourkova each garnered their third career All-Conference honor. Chekalina and Croft, both of whom were named to the third team each of the last two seasons, landed spots on the second team, while Kocourkova was placed on the third team.
Malakhova is the first NAU golfer to earn first-team honors since Sofia Anokhina in 2018. She also became the first Lumberjacks freshman on the first team since Savana Bezdicek in 2013.
Following two top-10 individual finishes in her last three tournaments, Malakhova has lowered her scoring average to a team-best 75.17, and she leads the team in top-10 finishes (2), top-20 finishes (3) and par or better rounds (5).
She heads into the conference championship tournament on the heels of her best showing of the season after tying for eighth at the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational, where she shot 1-over-par 217 (71-71-75). Malakhova also owns a 10th-place finish at the Red Rocks Invitational last month.
Led by Jennifer Koga, the player of the year and freshman of the year, Sacramento State also had four golfers honored by the conference. The Hornets are the defending Big Sky champions going into the conference tourney, which begins next Monday at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Oregon, and continues through Wednesday.