Estrada takes second in men’s 5K at NCAA Indoor Championships

 
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BY ALLI JENNEY —

Lone Northern Arizona University (NAU) distance runner redshirt senior Diego Estrada represented the Lumberjacks in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, single-handedly scored 13 overall points over the course of March 8 and 9.

The now nine-time All America, finished second in the men’s 5,000-meter run (13:30.24) on March 8 and claimed fourth in the men’s 3,000-meter (7:49.53) run on March 9 at Randal Tyson Track in Fayetteville, Ark. The finishes awarded Estrada 13 points, tying ASU for a sixteenth place team finish overall.

“I was very happy just because even a month ago I didn’t even want to run those events, the 5K, the 3K,” Estrada said. “I was very pleased with how I came out with two of my highest finishes.”

Six of the 2012 Olympian’s All-American honors have come from indoor track. After placing fourth in the men’s 5K in 2011 and fifth in 2012, his runner-up finish is the highest of his career in the event. Estrada’s time stands second-fastest in school history, behind his own 2011 performance and Big Sky Conference indoor record at 13:29.01.

Estrada had been recovering from an injury earlier on during the indoor season, and his performance gratified director of track and field and cross country Eric Heins.

“Athletes getting injured is kind of an occupational hazard, so for him to go from where he was ten to 12 weeks ago, probably not being able to run a 15 minute 5K, to running one of his fastest times ever at a championship race, one of the most important races of a year, really satisfying,” Heins said. “It was one of the first times he left a national championship saying, ‘You know I feel good about myself, I ran as hard as I could and I gave everything I had out there.’”

The performance also sits as the Lumberjacks’ second-highest team finish, behind 2012 Australian Olympian David McNeill’s eighth place overall finish in the 2010 Indoor Championships where he took the 5K title and came in as the 3K runner-up.

One of the biggest differences from last year’s appearance at nationals to this year was Estrada’s mental preparation. Estrada knew he would be tired from the 5K race the night before. Despite this, Estrada’s 3K time is third on NAU’s all-time list and is his highest finish in the event at the national level.

“He single-handedly finished us sixteenth in the country,” Heins said. “Right now based with how we finished in cross country at nationals, and how he finished at nationals, we’re probably sitting at fourth place in what’s called the John McDonnell Program of the Year Award.”

The John McDonnell Program of the Year Award is named after U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Hall of Famer and former Arkansas head coach John McDonnell. Under McDonnell’s direction, the Razorbacks won a combined 40 National Championships, placing top ten in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field during 24 of his 36 seasons tenure. Five of McDonnell’s teams won the NCAA Triple Crown.

“I think it’s got the team really excited because if we can manage a top ten finish outdoors, that should put us in a up there to where we can finish top two in that Program of the Year Award,” Heins said.

Estrada has one more shot at a national title with his final outdoor season.

“I think we’ve been heading in the right direction, but I haven’t been hitting it too hard so it’s time to get training,” Estrada said. “I talked to Coach Heins and we’re motivated, and the goal is to win outdoor — a national title. We’re heading in the right direction, but we’re not ready yet.”

The Lumberjacks will open up their 2013 outdoor track and field season on March 15 and 16 at the Willie Williams Invitational in Tucson.

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