Nielsen, Bray and Murillo’s Winning Efforts Lift Eagles at Big Sky Outdoor Championships

Eastern finishes with 11 All-Conference performances in Flagstaff

The Eastern Washington University track and field teams closed the 2014 Big Sky Outdoor Championships Saturday (May 17), finishing with a tally of five conference titles, 11 All-Big Sky performances and two school records over the weekend at Lumberjack Stadium in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“I was very proud of the effort our teams showed over the past two days as this is a tough meet for everyone in the conference,” said head men’s coach Stan Kerr. “I felt the leadership shown by our seniors and the resiliency shown by our underclassmen will make this meet a great part of their collegiate experience.”

In team scoring, the Eastern women were fifth with 84 points, finishing behind fourth-place Portland State (89) and comfortably ahead of Northern Colorado (60). The Eagle men had 68 points to tie for sixth with Idaho State. Northern Arizona won the team titles on both the men’s (151) and women’s (135) sides. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of our women’s program,” said head women’s coach Marcia Mecklenburg. “We had athletes that came out of nowhere to score huge and others that were ranked high and held their own.”

The final day of competition started off on a great note, as senior Zack Nielsen claimed his first career Big Sky title with a mark of 203-5 in the hammer. Jordan Arakawa finished close behind Nielsen with a throw of 202-11, good for second place. Jon Buchanan, who won the shot put Friday, grabbed the fourth spot with a toss of 196-6 to wrap up a one-two-four finish.

“This means a lot to me because I was a walk-on as a freshman so to come this far and improve is awesome,” said Nielsen. “None of this would have been possible without my teammates because Jordan has been in front of me most of the season and I had something to aim for. Me, Jordan and Jon are all real close so this win is a team effort.”

A strong encore to the trio’s sweep of the weigh throw indoors, Nielsen and Buchanan each had personal bests to also move up in the record books, now sitting third and seventh in school history, respectively. Buchanan had the third-best mark in the competition going into the final round, but Montana State’s Sean Ferriter prevented another EWU sweep with a throw of 197-8 on his last attempt.

“Zack moved into the spotlight with his breakthrough win,” said Kerr. “And like the indoor championships, he shared the spotlight with Jordan and Jon. That trio has just been phenomenal this year.” 

Freshman Courtney Bray won the pole vault, clearing the bar at 13-5 3/4 in her first career outdoor conference meet. After jumping 13-1 3/4 on her second attempt, just her and Montana State’s Casey Teska remained in the competition. Bray followed by nailing her first try at 13-5 3/4 to clinch the title. Anandae Clark was fifth in the event with a height of 12-4. 

“I honestly cannot believe it because coming in to the championships as a freshman, I knew I was going to face some tough competition,” said Bray. “I knew I was going to give it my all, but more importantly I wanted to have fun because it’s the Big Sky Conference and everyone has worked so hard to get here. I just felt blessed to get here so to win it feels really good.”

“Courtney and Anandae are a great one-two punch for us as we look ahead to hosting the outdoor championships next year,” said Mecklenburg.

After two strong scoring performances Friday in the discus and hammer, Emma Murillo stunned the field in the javelin, launching a personal-best throw of 158-2 to become a Big Sky Champion. Murillo, who entered the meet ranked outside the top 10 in the event, had a seasonal best by over 20 feet. She now ranks seventh in school history with that mark.

“It is a huge shock for me to win because I came in the first flight and I was not expecting to win,” said Murillo. “I knew I was going to go out and try my hardest and attack. After the season I have had, it came as a big shock but I tried really hard and it paid off.”  

“Our two conference champions today, Emma and Courtney, really fed the fire of the determination for the whole team,” said Mecklenburg. “Those two events have been the Eastern women’s bread and butter over the years so it was great to see us continue that winning tradition.”

Senior Steven Warner, who came just .02 from the top spot in school history Friday, left no doubt on the track as he placed second in the 110 hurdles with a new school record of 14.23. The previous record was set by Michael Dwyer in 1998.

“The other spotlight shone brightly on Steven as he claimed a silver medal and a school record,” said Kerr. “He’s had his eyes set on that record from the get-go and was not going to be denied.”

Fresh off a Big Sky title in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase Friday, Catie Arrigoni put together another All-Conference performance, placing second in the 5,000 with a time of 18:08.99 Katie Mahoney (18:32.77) finished sixth and Sarah Reiter (18:44.74) was eighth in the 12-1/2 lap event. 

Mahoney was also fourth in the 1,500, clocking a time of 4:39.57 and missing the podium by less than a second. Paula Gil-Echevarria (ninth, 4:46.04) and Arrigoni (10th, 4:46.55) also came close to scoring points.

“The women distance runners were the workhorses for us at this championship,” said Mecklenburg. “Catie added a silver medal to her gold one, while Katie and Sarah scored key points for us as well. It was a very exciting two days”

Nielsen followed up on his conference title performance in the hammer with a fifth-place finish in the discus, throwing 164-10.

Freshman Trenton Osborn had a leap of 45-4 1/4 in the triple jump, placing sixth.

Morgan Romey had throw of 45-9 1/4 in the shot put, taking seventh and earning two points for Eastern.

Junior Brad Michael finished sixth in the 400, running a time of 48.59. He later joined Collin Green, Kramer Green and Austin Upmeyer in the 4x400 relay, which also placed sixth with a time of 3:15.08.

The women’s 4x400 relay of Whitney Leavitt, Brooke Monson, Leiran Cornish, and Angelica Rodriguez capped the meet with a sixth-place finish as well, running 3:47.54. That time ranks third in school history.

While the Big Sky meet concluded the season for most of the team, a select group of Eagles appear to be in position to move on to the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Rounds on May 29-31 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Athletes who rank in the top 48 in the region in their events can qualify for the meet.

“This has been a hard-working team and the coaches look forward to congratulating and graduating the seniors on their numerous accomplishments,” said Kerr. “We also look forward to the return of the underclassmen next year as many of them had solid performances in these championships.”

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