FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Northern Arizona University's cross country teams will compete at the Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships on Saturday, November 2nd. The meet is hosted by Montana State in Bozeman, Mont.
The Lumberjacks were highly regarded in the Big Sky coaches' preseason poll. The men were picked unanimously to repeat as Big Sky Champions and the women were picked to finish second. NAU men have won the past six Big Sky Conference titles, including the last eight individual titles. The Lumberjack men are one of just two nationally ranked men's teams in the Big Sky, the other being No. 30 Southern Utah.
"It's exciting, with Southern Utah being ranked in the top-30 it will be a nice challenge," said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "It's great for the conference to have a few ranked teams in it and Montana State will do a great job hosting; they will have their teams pumped up."
The No. 2 NAU men return defending Big Sky individual champion Brian Shrader. If Shrader is able to come away with another individual title he would be one of just nine athletes who have won the title in back-to-back seasons. Also returning for the Lumberjacks is a host of All-Big Sky performers in Matt McElroy, Futsum Zienasellassie and Caleb Hoover. NAU was able to win last year's conference championship in convincing fashion as the team had four athletes finish in the top ten sweeping the one (Shrader), two (McElroy) and three (Zineasellassie) spots in the men's 8K.
"I always remind the guys of 2002 when our team was favored to win and we ended up getting beat by Montana State," said Heins. "You can never look past the Big Sky."
The women's 5K will be an exciting one as the Lumberjack women will battle it out with the likes of Weber State and Southern Utah. Weber State returns defending individual champion Amber Henry but lost their number two and three runners from last season. NAU will be looking to dethrone the defending champions of Weber State with a committee of young and talented runners.
"I think us and Weber State will be the ones to battle it out for the win," said Assistant Coach Leah Rosenfeld. "This year is definitely our best shot to win in a while."
The Lumberjack women will need to put together a strong performance this weekend as they continue their quest to qualify for the NCAA National Championship meet. Freshman Paige Gilchrist has been a major part of the team's success thus far, a strong performance from her will be pertinent for the NAU women to come out on top. NAU also returns sophomore Rolonda Jumbo who is one of just two athletes awarded All-Big Sky last season returning to the competition.
"We've seen and raced against the best in the country and I think that experience will help us," said Rosenfeld.
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