TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Northern Arizona University's men's cross country team competed at the NCAA Cross Country National Championships at the historic Levern Gibson Cross Country Course. The Lumberjack men finished second led by a trio of All-Americans. Rolonda Jumbo of the women's cross country also competed as an individual finishing 195th at her first national meet.
The NAU men came into the meet ranked No. 1 in the country and it seemed as if they would defend that ranking through the majority of the race. Even in the midst of the 16 degree weather and ankle deep mud NAU led at the halfway point of the race and was able to hold on to that lead through the 8K mark of the men's 10K. The Lumberjack men performed at a very high level which allowed for them to separate themselves from the pack, entering into a battle for the national championship with then No. 2 Colorado.
"It was a really hard race about as tough as it can get," said Shrader. "We set ourselves up well and got out hard which put us in a position to win and we actually were winning for the majority of the race but Colorado gained some ground on us at the end."
With 2012 champion Oklahoma State not being in contention to repeat, with 2K left it came down to NAU and Colorado. Sophomore Futsum Zienasellassie upped his game at this point in the race. Zienasellassie spent the majority of his time within the front chase pack at the 10-15 place range, however with less than 2K remaining Zienasellassie made his move pass the front of the field to garner a fourth place finish in his home state of Indiana.
Zienasellassie's fourth place finish was good for All-American distinction and was a 27-place improvement from last season's national championships where he finished 31st.
Junior Matt McElroy and senior Brian Shrader did not disappoint as they both contributed All-American performances finishing 25th and 28th, respectively. McElroy and Shrader have ran strong races throughout the season and the national championship was no exception to that. The duo ran a steady pace throughout the entire race as they looked to bring a national championship back to NAU for the first time.
"For me individually I hit exactly what I wanted to do so to be an All-American was great," said McElroy. "We finished second and that's something we have to live with. We aren't walking away from this meet with our heads down, Colorado just had a better day."
The critical four and five spots were filled by senior Josh Hardin and sophomore Nathan Weitz who finished 75th and 76th, respectively. Hardin and Weitz both had strong races as the pair cross the finish line together. Both Hardin and Weitz finished in front of Colorado's fifth runner but it was not enough to knock off the Buffaloes.
"I'm proud of how our team did as a whole," said Weitz. "Obviously we were aiming for first but to be second in the nation is great. You know your team is good when you're disappointed in second."
"I am proud of the guys. Throughout the season we've only lost to two teams, No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 1 Colorado," said Heins. "It may sting now because we were so close but fifteen years from now those young men will look back and be proud of this accomplishment."
Jumbo competed at the NCAA National Championships for the first time in the women's 6K. The sophomore had a strong showing finishing 195th against the field of 253. The lone Lumberjack showed great determination as she ran through the course in the face of rough weather conditions.
"It was a tough race and a big crowd so it was a new experience for me," said Jumbo."This experience was good for me because it showed how much work I have to do for next year."