FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – This Saturday, Buffalo Park will be the site of the 36th annual George Kyte Classic and the beginning of another highly-anticipated cross country season for the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks.
The Lumberjack men are riding a wave of preseason praise before the year's first event, with the Big Sky coaches declaring NAU the favorite to win the conference in 2016 and the USTFCCCA doing the same for the NCAA Mountain Region. A No. 3 ranking nationally also accompanies the Lumberjacks heading into the weekend as they look to secure a fifth-straight GKC title.
The NAU women, the conference's preseason No. 2 team, will also attempt to defend their 2015 George Kyte victory Saturday.
"This meet is a rust-buster, so we're just trying to remember what it feels like to put the uniform on, warm-up and compete in cross country," said Director of Cross Country Eric Heins.
Representing the Lumberjack men will be redshirt juniors Matt Baxter, Cory Glines and Andy Trouard, junior Harvey Nelson, redshirt sophomore Geordie Beamish and sophomores Jackson Crose, Kyle Havriliak, Peter Lomong and Ryan Wolff.
This will be the second time in their Lumberjack careers that Glines, Havriliak, Lomong, Nelson, Trouard and Wolff compete at the GKC, with Glines having the most success of the bunch after winning the individual title last season with a time of 22:48.9.
The Lumberjack women will run out redshirt senior transfers Karina Ernst and Emily Roughan, senior Carolyn Bethel, redshirt junior Kylie Goo, junior Melanie Zibrat, redshirt sophomore Maggie Carruth and true sophomores Mikayla Malaspina, Miranda Myers and Jessie Williams.
Of the competing group of women, Goo and Malaspina both have top-10 finishes at the GKC in their careers, while Zibrat is the only NAU athlete on either side that has run the course competitively more than once.
"I think a shorter race will suit our athletes well, especially when you consider [Goo] coming from the middle-distance background," said Heins.
For the men, the course will run at 4.5 miles with a 1:30 p.m. start time, while the women will compete at a distance of 2.6 miles beginning at 2:30 p.m. A total of 14 universities, community colleges and technical schools will join the Lumberjacks for Saturday's action at Buffalo Park, including perennial in-state competitors Arizona, Arizona State and Grand Canyon.
While rain postponed things a bit during last year's festivities, storms should not be a problem this time around as Saturday's current forecast calls for no precipitation of any kind and sunny skies with a high of 72 degrees (source: weather.com).