NAU’s Estrada fifth in NCAA 5,000-meter final

NAMPA, Idaho — Northern Arizona’s Diego Estrada finished in fifth place overall in the 5,000 meters against a stacked field at the NCAA Indoor National Track and Field Championships on Friday.

Estrada’s final time of 13:38.45, a season best, was three-tenths of a second out of fourth place, his finish in the same event at last year’s indoor national meet.

“Diego ran a good race overall,” said NAU track and field coach Eric Heins. “He looked great through the halfway point in sticking with the leaders and covering their moves.”

Estrada and Iona’s Leonard Korir spent much of the first half of the race swapping between third and fourth place, closely following event champion Lawi Lalang and third-place finisher Stephen Sambu of Arizona.

Through 3,000 meters, Estrada was no more than a second behind the race leaders as the top six separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

“After the halfway point, a couple guys made moves that we didn’t expect,” said Heins. “When they passed Diego and created a gap, he just wasn’t able to make up the ground by the end of the race.”

The event’s final 2,000 meters saw a head-to-head battle between Lalang and Stanford’s Chris Derrick, but at that point Estrada was fending off Korir, who trailed in a distant sixth place.

On the final straightaway, Estrada and Southern Utah’s Cam Levins, two of the Mountain Region’s best distance athletes, battled it out for fourth and fifth place, crossing the finish line in a near tie.

The event was Estrada’s first of two races at the 2012 indoor national meet.  He will compete Saturday night in the 3,000 meters, a race in which he holds the nation’s third-best time in 2012.

“He will be looking forward to that 3K race tomorrow for sure,” said Heins. “He was a little frustrated with today’s effort, so he’ll come back tomorrow ready to go.”