We’re No. 1—twice!
The 2020 Big Sky track and field championships was canceled due to the pandemic, but the wait only made Northern Arizona University’s eventual double victory that much sweeter. The NAU men’s and women’s track and field teams returned this year to claim the No. 1 titles at the 2021 Big Sky Outdoor Championships.
“These were some of the most talented teams we’ve brought to these championships, and we’re filled with gratitude that we were able to compete,” said Michael Smith, head coach and director of the cross country and track & field program. “It’s been a long run up for all of the teams in the Big Sky, and this meet was a huge accomplishment for all of the programs. We’re fortunate to come out on top.”
This is the fifth time in school history NAU has swept the outdoor championships. The teams first accomplished this feat in 1990 and then claimed the titles again in 2014, 2016 and 2018. This year, the women were led by junior Matilde Roe and the men were led by senior Luis Grijalva, both of whom named the Big Sky’s Most Valuable Athletes for this meet.
The competition lasted four days. The women claimed their 12th outdoor championship title with a score of 201, 59 points ahead of No. 2 Weber State. NAU also became the third women’s team in Big Sky history to score at least 200 points.
Roe accumulated 25 points for the Lumberjacks, winning the discus and shot put events. Following her performance in shot put was freshman Alaina Diggs in No. 2 and Carly Watts in No. 4. The team also had No. 1 finishes in the 100-meter relay run with seniors Jada Jackson and Miracle Onyemaobi and freshman Kenashalee Kerr and Kenya Coburn, the 1500-meter race run by Taryn O’Neill and the 800-meter race run by Maggi Congdon. Many other top 10 finishes from teammates secured the team’s overall No. 1 finish.
“I know some of the best teams we’ve had at NAU and in the history of this conference, and it’s remarkable,” Smith said, referring to the women’s performance. “It speaks to the balance of our program—it’s not just one event area. We’re a full track and field team and the performance this weekend puts us against the best teams ever, and it certainly looked that way to me.”
On the men’s side, the team started in No. 3, but took the lead early to claim their 23rd all-time conference outdoor championship title with a score of 168, leading the No. 2 team Montana State by 46 points. This also is the highest the men have scored since their championship total of 187 points in 2016.
Grijalva accumulated 22 points and won the 1500-meter race, setting a new stadium record of 3:41.61. Following him in that event were four teammates, which meant NAU dominated placings in the top eight spots: freshman Nico Young in No. 3, freshman Abdihamid Nur in No. 5, junior Theo Quax in No. 6 and senior Cade Burks in No. 7. Contributing to NAU’s wins were junior David Dunlap in the 200-meter while Nur and Young took No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the 5000-meter. All of these placings combined with numerous top ten finishes by other teammates sealed the team’s overall victory.
“We have an amazing coaching staff and they take care of their event groups in huge ways,” Smith said. “Our athletes know they play a part in the greater puzzle required to win team championships. Young athletes need experience at championships, which they haven’t had because of the pandemic, but they certainly got it this weekend.”
With the conference championships completed, the Lumberjacks now await the list of those who qualified for the NCAA West Regional held May 27-29 in College Station, Texas. Follow the teams’ events on the NAU Cross Country and Track and Field Twitter and Instagram.