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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.

NAZ Elite didn't have to look too far for its latest roster boost, announcing early Tuesday it was adding four males including Northern Arizona product Matt Baxter.

In addition to Baxter, the third Northern Arizona graduate to run for the team since its start in January 2014, Nick Hilton also joined the professional running team. Hilton trained in Flagstaff starting in 2012 when he moved to the town, left for a short time in 2017 and returned before long, soon finding a spot with NAZ Elite.

NAZ Elite also signed Kiya Dandena, a 2:12 marathon runner, and Sid Vaughn, who won the Mt. SAC Relays 10,000-meter race, the SACTOWN 10-miler and the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon during his first year out of college in 2018. Moreover, Dandena has been training in Flagstaff since 2016 and has made ties to the team that led to his inclusion to NAZ Elite.

"Everybody, I am confident, is a good fit chemistry-wise," said NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario, who on Monday celebrated the team's fifth-year anniversary.

Unlike in the summer when NAZ Elite brought aboard four women runners who were coming straight out of college, Rosario needed a mix of experience and youth when it came to the men's side.

“We needed to address both sides of the coin. We needed a couple more veterans to give Scott (Fauble) and Scott (Smith) people they could train with right away, but we needed to think about the future as far as the men as well," Rosario said. "I think adding two veterans and two new guys, that could not have worked out better because that is pretty much exactly what we wanted.”

NAZ Elite's roster now consists of 15 members. It already had three 2:12 marathoners in Aaron Braun, Scott Fauble and Scott Smith.

Baxter was a five-time All-American while with Northern Arizona. He finished 15th in November's NCAA championship race after taking second in the 2017 NCAAs and 11th in the 2016 installment. The rookie was fast on the track in 2018, too, setting PRs in the 5000m at 13:31.00 and the 10000m in 28:10.05.

“I think the fact that he’s fast on the track and cross country shows that he’s going to be that versatile type of athlete who can run a 5,000, a 10,000, a half marathon and definitely a marathon some time down the road," Rosario said.

When it comes to 29-year-old Hilton, whose PR in the marathon is 2:16:20 set back in 2015, Rosario said he thinks the runner has a lot of room to grow.

“He’s not as accomplished as some of the members of our team in terms of personal bests; however, he is a really positive guy, a leader type of guy," Rosario said of Hilton. "He manages Run Flagstaff, he knows how to interact with people and so he checks all the boxes of being a team guy, and I believe that he has room to improve and run some times that are a lot faster. He’s been on his own the last couple years and it’s hard to train on your own.”

Dandena is also 29, and is a native of Ethiopia. He owns PRs of 2:12:56 for the marathon, 1:03:13 for the half and 29:09 in the 10K, all of which he set in 2017.

In 2018 Dandena finished third at the USATF 20K Championships.

Hilton, who along with Dandena competed in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials, will attempt to defend his title at the Walt Disney World Marathon on Sunday.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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