NEW ORLEANS – After not releasing a regional or national poll last week, the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) came out with its week five NCAA Division I Regional Rankings today with the No. 1 Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks holding their stake as the Mountain Region's top team.
The Lumberjack men a riding a wave of confidence after their first-place performance at the 2016 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational last Friday, besting the likes of Stanford, BYU and Syracuse, as well as 15 other top-30 nationally-ranked teams. The aforementioned Cougars remained at No. 2 in the Mountain Region this week, while No. 3 Colorado, No. 4 Colorado State and No. 5 UTEP finished out the men's top-five in week five.
It was a good weekend for the NAU women as well, who pieced together a gritty performance in Madison on Friday en route to a 24th-place finish. Because of their effort, the women moved up one spot in the week five Mountain Regional poll to No. 9. Colorado and New Mexico continue their reign at No. 1 and No. 2 in the region, respectively, while No. 3 Utah, No. 4 BYU and No. 5 Air Force complete the women's top-five.
As he has done so frequently in his Lumberjack career, redshirt-senior Futsum Zienasellassie led the way for NAU in Wisconsin, opening his 2016 cross country season with a runner-up performance and a 23:55.1 time. His showing at the Nuttycombe Invite Friday made it back-to-back second-place finishes at this specific Wisconsin meet, with the last time coming in 2014 as a part of the Lumberjack squad that went on to place fourth at NCAA's.
For what it is worth, in the last five seasons, the team that won the Mountain Region has gone on to finish in the top-five at NCAA Championships. In fact, in the last three seasons, Colorado (2015) and NAU (2013) have earned second-place performances while the Buffaloes (2014) won it all two seasons ago.
An NCAA Division I national title this year would be the first of its kind not only for Lumberjack cross country, but also for any program in the long and storied history of NAU athletics.
For the full week five regional rankings, click here.