FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Northern Arizona University's cross country program will compete at the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships hosted by Weber State in Ogden, Utah. The meet will be held on Friday Nov. 15th with the women's 6K beginning at 1:15 p.m. and the men's 10K beginning at noon. This is a big weekend for NAU cross country as the women, fifth in the region, continue their quest to compete at the NCAA Championships and the men, second in the region, begin their quest toward a national championship.
Women's cross country will be looking to qualify for nationals as a team for the first time since 2008. Led by a host of young talent the team has an extremely bright future but is looking to make its presence felt right away. NAU has been able to battle adversity after losing sophomore Melanie Townsend to injury early in the season. The Lumberjacks have upped their game from top to bottom, but will rely heavily on freshman Paige Gilchrist and sophomore Rolonda Jumbo as they look to qualify for the national meet.
"We are going into it with a very positive mindset and even though the team is young they have raced very well lately," said assistant coach Leah Rosenfeld. "The ladies know anything can happen on race day and that every team is human and can have a bad day. We just want to be able to take advantage of those bad days and I think the team will have their best race of the year this week."
The Lumberjack women are coming off a second place finish at the Big Sky Championships where they were edged out by Weber State by just nine points. The team is currently ranked just one spot behind Weber State in the region and will be looking to give the Wildcats some payback on Friday.
"It's been fun with Weber State since our team has always seemed to look at them as the team to beat in recent years," said Rosenfeld. "They're obviously not the only team we're looking to beat, but it's a healthy motivation."
The Men's cross country team will have all eyes on them this weekend as they will battle it out against No. 1 Colorado. NAU will be looking to come away with a victory with the use of its depth. The team has arguably the best trio in the nation in Brian Shrader, Futsum Zienasellassie and Matt McElroy, but the performances of the bottom half of NAU's top-seven will be pertinent. The Lumberjacks will need strong races from the likes of Nathan Weitz, Andy Trouard, Josh Hardin and Caleb Hoover.
"I think this is by far the deepest team we've had," said director of track & field and cross country Eric Heins. "A lot of the results will come down to that fifth runner, so to have four guys who could end up in that spot is great."
The NAU men are the defending Mountain Regional Champions and are coming off the Big Sky Championships where they won their seventh consecutive conference title. The team returns all of its top finishers from last year's mountain region championship team in Zienasellassie (4th), Shrader (5th) and McElroy (10th) all garnering All-Region honors.
"It will be a very competitive race but we ultimately want to be ready for Nov. 23rd," said Heins.
The first and second place teams in both the women's 6K and the men's 10K will automatically qualify for NCAA Championships next weekend in Terre Haute, Ind., along with 13 at-large bids from around the country.
"We have what would be considered a strong RPI or strength of schedule in other sports as we have wins against a lot of the top programs," Heins said. "The guys can run a controlled race and not necessarily stress about getting out to the front. We are looking at this as more of a preliminary race to work on some things and get ready for nationals."