OGDEN, Utah – Northern Arizona University's cross country program competed at the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships hosted by Weber State University. The Lumberjack men came away with a first place finish and the women finished sixth.
The men's first place finish came against a field that featured the likes of No. 1 Colorado, No. 5 BYU and No. 11 New Mexico.
"The Mountain Region had four teams including us that were pretty secure in a spot for nationals," said director of track & field and cross country Eric Heins. "The best thing about today is that we didn't have to run as hard which will help us at nationals. It was great to come out on top but our focus is on next week."
The NAU men's win makes them back-to-back regional champs marking the first time since the 1986-88 seasons the team has won the title consecutively. The Lumberjacks were led by sophomore Futsum Zienasellassie who finished 3rd in the men's 10K with a time of 29:45.2.
"It feels great and I am very proud of the team. One through seven we had a good race," said Zienasellassie. "I didn't go all out today so I was happy to get third place and still have a good amount in the tank for nationals."
Behind Zienasellassie for NAU was a trio of Lumberjacks in Matt McElroy (9th), Josh Hardin (10th) and Brian Shrader (11th) all of whom earned All-Region honors. Rounding out the group for the men was sophomore Nathan Weitz (28th), freshman Andy Trouard (40th), and junior Caleb Hoover (60th). The team will travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete at the NCAA National Championships on Nov. 23rd where it will look to win the first national championship in school history.
The Lumberjack women finished sixth in what ended up being their final meet of the season. The team was led by sophomore Rolonda Jumbo who finished the women's 6K in 20:51.2 grabbing All-Region honors with an 11th place finish. Jumbo may have the opportunity to compete at the national meet granted certain scenarios play out in regards to at-large bids.
"It's awesome to see how much I've been able to improve since last season," said Jumbo.
The NAU women were in need of a top-two finish in order to qualify for the national championship meet. Although it was a lofty goal, the band of youngsters put their best foot forward. NAU had four runners finish within the top-half of the field of 136. Freshmen Paige Gilchrist and Carolyn Bethel finished 31st and 32nd, respectively, followed by junior Kelly Fruth who finished 42nd. Rounding out the group for the Lumberjacks were juniors Grace Adams-Handy (72nd), Shayla Freeman (82nd) and Jamie Shrader (83rd).
Although this serves as the end of the women's cross country season there is much to be excited about when it comes to this team. With such a young and talented group of runners slated to return next season the goal of reaching nationals does not seem far off.
"Throughout the season they have improved every meet and I am really proud of the team," said assistant coach Leah Rosenfeld. "They know that they're talented, they just want to be able to prove it when it counts. This season was a great improvement from last year so it's definitely a step in the right direction."