NAU vs. Arkansas Will Pit Distance Against Field At NCAAs

NAU vs. Arkansas Will Pit Distance Against Field At NCAAs

The men’s team battle at NCAAs is shaping up to be a thriller between Northern Arizona and Arkansas.

Feb 21, 2024 by Lincoln Shryack
NAU vs. Arkansas Will Pit Distance Against Field At NCAAs

The men’s team battle at the NCA Indoor Championships is shaping up to be a thriller between Northern Arizona and Arkansas. 

Just don’t expect that battle to result in many head-to-head matchups between the top-ranked Lumberjacks and the defending champion Razorbacks.

NAU assumed the top spot in our latest rankings — just one point ahead of Arkansas — after posting the NCAA’s top mark over the weekend in the DMR in 9:17.43. Mike Smith’s squad also got a boost from sophomore Garret Bernt’s 22.93m weight throw, which is now No. 4 in the nation.

With an assist from Bernt, NAU could look to ride their distance stars – 5K collegiate record-holder Nico Young chief among them– to their school’s first ever NCAA track and field title in Boston. 

The Lumberjacks have eight projected scorers in the mile, 3,000m, 5,000m, DMR & weight throw:

  • Colin Sahlman (Projected fifth in mile) - 4 points

  • Nico Young (Projected first in 3,000 & 5,000m) - 20 points

  • Aaron Las Heras (Projected fifth in 3,000m & sixth in 5,000m) - 7 points

  • Theo Quax (Projected seventh in 5,000m) - 2 points

  • DMR (Projected third) - 6 points

  • Garret Bernt (Projected fourth in weight throw) - 5 points

Projected point total: 44 points

(Note: While NAU ran the No.1 DMR time, that was with Nico Young anchoring, who is unlikely to run the event at NCAAs due to the quick turnaround from the 5,000m. That’s why they are not ranked first in our system.)

No. 2 Arkansas, however, will try to counter the distance powerhouse of NAU with two heavyweights in the field events — high jumper Romaine Beckford and long jumper Wayne Pinnock, who are both past NCAA champions. 

Beckford and Pinnock have the top marks in their respective events this season and will each be heavy favorites in Boston.

Here’s how the rest of Arkansas’ projected point scorers shake out:

  • Peter Maru (Projected eighth in 5,000m) - 1 point

  • Jordan Anthony (Projected third in 60m) - 6 points

  • Tai Brown (Projected sixth in 60m hurdles) - 3 points

  • Romaine Beckford (Projected first in high jump) - 10 points

  • Wayne Pinnock (Projected first in long jump) - 10 points

  • Jack Turner (Projected third in heptathlon) - 6 points

  • Yariel Soto Torrado (Projected sixth in heptathlon) - 3 points

  • 4x400m (Projected seventh) - 2 points

  • DMR (Projected seventh) - 2 points

Projected point total: 43 points

Of course, two teams competing against each other for a national title while barely crossing paths in their events is not new; it’s one of the features that makes the sport so unique compared to other team competitions. 

But for all the hype NAU has gotten in recent years regarding their NCAA indoor potential, this may be their best shot yet at actually winning it all. 

Not only do they have their usual crew of star distance runners, but the combination of Nico Young’s elevated status this season (12:57 5,000m, 3:57 mile at 7,000 ft) and a weakened Arkansas squad (star triple jumper/2023 Bowerman winner Jaydon Hibbert recently turned pro) gives the Lumberjacks their best chance to break through in Boston.

Ironically, it could ultimately be a distance runner who serves as an X-factor for the Razorbacks in March. 

Freshman Peter Maru has run just twice this indoor season, but his 13:17 5,000m and 3:54 anchor on the DMR show he can score at NCAAs. If the Ugandan can snag a 3,000m qualifier (he’s unlikely to run in the DMR due to the 5,000m), Maru will give Arkansas another opportunity to stifle NAU’s distance onslaught.