OGDEN, Utah – A storybook season continues for Director of Cross Country Eric Heins, as he was named the 2016 Big Sky Men's and Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year Wednesday afternoon.
In his illustrious ten-year career at NAU, Heins has now garnered 27 total Big Sky Coach of the Year awards. That number ranks second all-time among Big Sky coaches, with NAU's Ron Mann accumulating 58 such awards. In fact—during the 2016 calendar year—Heins has earned the COTY recognition five times, securing No. 23, 24 and 25 during indoor and outdoor track.
Both cross country squads are coming off of an exciting weekend at conference championships in Moscow, Idaho, last Friday, in which the No. 1 ranked Lumberjack men made history and the women rallied for an exciting first-place victory.
The men, who were recently named the nation's No. 1 team for the fourth-straight week in the USTFCCCA poll, placed one through six at Big Sky Championships—becoming the first team in the history of the conference to account for the first six finishers at the championship race. Redshirt-senior Futsum Zienasellassie led the way for NAU, as he has done so frequently in his career, becoming only the fourth Lumberjack and 10th conference athlete ever to win multiple XC individual titles. In total, the men pieced together seven All-Big Sky performances.
The NAU women also showed up big when it mattered most last Friday, mowing down other athletes during the last 1K of their 5K championship race to place first with 48 total points—12 points better than preseason No. 1 Weber State. Redshirt-senior Melanie Townsend nabbed her third-career XC All-Big Sky accolade with a fourth-place mark, while redshirt-junior Kylie Goo (sixth) and sophomore Mikayla Malaspina (eighth) earned their first XC all-conference recognition.
The two Big Sky titles last weekend now gives Heins 28 total for his career, spanning over cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field. It was the program's 15th sweep of XC conference championships and the fifth-time they have done so under Heins.
The Lumberjacks will compete next on Friday, Nov. 11, at NCAA Mountain Regionals in Logan, Utah. The No. 1 men will be facing off against the nation's No. 2 and No. 3 teams in Colorado and BYU at that 10K race, while the women face off against the likes of No. 1 Colorado and No. 6 New Mexico in their 6K competition.