Men’s track sweep field: Lumberjacks take home 10 individual titles
The NAU track and field team hosted the Big Sky Conference (BSC) Indoor Championships Feb. 4 and 5 at the Walkup Skydome, securing a total of 12 individual and team medals over the two-day event.
The Lumberjacks finished the final day of the championship with six individual titles and a team title. When the final scores were tallied, the men’s team made a statement. The Lumberjacks shattered the the all-time Big Sky team scoring record by 31 points. The men claimed first with a score of 215 points and the women ended their indoor season in fourth place with 85 points.
All four Lumberjacks competing in the men’s mile race claimed first through fourth place. Redshirt junior Diego Estrada crossed the finish line to seal the victory at 4:12.54. Redshirt seniors John Yatsko and Jordan Chipangama along with freshman Chris Ganem congratulated one another as they finished second (4:14.98), third (4:16.66) and fourth (4:16.71), respectively.
“It was a team effort. We wanted to go one through four,” Estrada said. “When I got going, I figured I could close. First lap, I wanted to put it in the bank.”
The Lumberjacks finished the final day of the championship with six individual titles and a team title.
Redshirt senior Nicole Elliot began the final day of the championship by throwing 19.73 meters in the women’s weight throw, passing Sacramento State’s Ify Agwuenu on her final throw. Elliot ended her career with her second BSC champion title.
“‘Last throw, best throw,’ that’s our motto on this team,” Elliot said. “I heard the crowd going nuts, my parents are here, all the adrenaline was going and I couldn’t let people down.”
Redshirt sophomore Lauren Stuart placed fourth in the weight throw event with 18.14 meters and junior Kasandra Vegas followed in sixth with a throw of 16.79 meters.
“Sometimes you’re watching a field event, it doesn’t have that exciting feel of field like a track meet, where you watch somebody come from behind and win it, but that’s exactly what [Elliot] did,” said Director of Track and Field Eric Heins. “To win on her last throw, that was so exciting.”
Next to the pit, the men’s triple jumpers channeled their inner Superman. Red-shirt sophomore Edgar Panford and senior Thremaine Johnson took first and second in the event, respectively. Panford claimed the title with a personal best leap of 15.14 meters and Johnson finished with 14.29 meters.
“I know I had the crowd hyped up a little bit, so they gave me the confidence I needed to get out there and get a big jump. It felt great,” Panford said. “I love a lot of attention on me because it always gets me hyped up.”
Freshman Deante Kemper and Panford had the idea for the jump squad to wear Superman socks.
“We saw the Superman socks had capes and we’re jumpers, and so we just like to get off the ground.” Kemper said.
Both the men and women jumpers adorned Superman socks this weekend, and in the words of Panford, “Fly here, fly far, fly high.”
Kemper held his own in the men’s high jump, using his final attempt at 6’ 10.25” to stay in contention with Sacramento State freshman Anthony Williams. That jump allowed Kemper to reach 7’ 25”, ending his day with a title of his own.
“It feels good to win conference for the first time,” Kemper said. “I love having the crowd because it brings me up, makes me feel good and helps me jump higher.”
Heins noted Kemper’s busy day, and mental toughness.
“That was great for Deante because he had to run and score for the hurdles, and then come right back over here and start high jumping,” Heins said. “It was pretty tough for him to compose himself after the hurdles and then go out and win the high jump, [it] is fantastic for him.”
Sophomore Adel al Nasser held onto his preliminary finish in the men’s 400-meter race landing the BSC title and a new personal best time of 46.80.
“I feel really good; it’s a big honor for me,” al Nasser said. “I just started running. I didn’t feel the first 200 meters. I started running around the curve and I finished pretty hard.”
Estrada clinched his third individual title of the championships in the 3000-meter run with a time of 8:27.04.
“I’m in disbelief. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was fighting for the team. Ideally, I could just overpower the conference. This week, I played into their game and kicked the first two races. But this last one, it’s mine,” Estrada said. “I won it my freshman year and I wasn’t going to lose it at my home. I was going for it. I kept trying to relax [and] listen to the crowd. I felt more need to do some damage and the crowd carried me home.”
Freshman Caleb Hoover ran like a veteran, following behind Estrada in fifth at 8:38.68.
“Those guys, man, every race they ran perfectly,” Heins said about the men’s distance squad. “They put themselves in the front, put themselves in the mix, and if they weren’t leading it, they let someone else do the work and then they moved at the perfect times to only let their teammates beat them.”
“That was phenomenal. There was not an event or person that didn’t capitalize on being here and that in itself is pretty impressive,” Heins said. “For everybody to come in and finish where they’re ranked or higher, you know there [are] no words for that. That is just almost a perfect meet.”
On day one, the track and field squad captured four individual crowns and one team title. The men’s team finished the first day with a 36-point lead, while the women attempted to close its 23 point deficit.
Sophomore Lauren Laszczak was the first Lumberjack to bring home a BSC gold in the women’s high jump. After clearing each height on her first attempt she reached a new personal best and win at a height of 5’7.75”.
“I had the mindset that I knew I was sitting fifth, but I could easily grab that title,” Laszczak said. “Being at home, it felt a lot better and winning it was amazing.”
Senior Josh DeKonty, Johnson, Panford and Andre Gaines represented the Lumberjacks in the long jump. DeKonty, Panford and Gaines humbly took to the podium, finishing first, second and third, with new personal bests of 7.46 meters, 7.39 meters and 7.32 meters, respectively.
“I just wanted to come out and all four of us go one-through-four. Thremaine [Johnson] wasn’t there, but we just wanted to sweep it,” DeKonty said. “It was a team effort.”
Senior long jumper Jenne Childs received the bronze medal for the women’s long jump with a leap of 5.65 meters.
All five Lumberjacks in the 5K race placed in the top seven, contributing to the overall team score. As anticipated, Estrada finished with a time of 14:52.80. After crossing the finish line, Estrada immediately turned around and began cheering on his fellow teammates.
Junior Tim Freriks took third (15:10.59), followed closely by freshman Caleb Hoover in fourth (15:12.80), and in turn was chased down by red-shirt senior Andrew Belus and redshirt freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns, who came in sixth (15:13.08) and seventh (15:25.55).
“Honestly, today I wanted to set a good pace through the first 4,000 meters and if it was too slow I would jump by in the 1,000, catch the other guys, bait them and see if I can kill some of them off,” Estrada said. “If it was fast, I would’ve waited until 200 [meters]. It was a team effort and I was out there for the team.”
To conclude the first day’s events, the men’s squad clinched its last BSC title of the day in the distance medley relay race. Ganem took the first leg and redshirt senior Dennis Givens held the responsibility of the second. Sophomore Caleb Potts and Yatsko held the third and anchor legs.
Redshirt senior Pascal Tang defended his title in the men’s weight throw, adding another title with a throw of 19.99 meters.
“It’s feels really nice to take the title, especially this being my last year and being able to do it at home,” Tang said. “I’m kind of disappointed because I wanted to throw farther to make it to nationals, but I guess next week will be the time do that.”
March 3 and 4 in South Bend, Ind. will be the Alex Wilson Last Chance Indoor Meet. Tang, Elliot and Kemper are the only Lumberjacks who will be representing NAU with hopes to qualify for the NCAA Indoor National Championships, which will be held the following weekend in Boise, Idaho on the 9 and 10.