NEW ORLEANS—The United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) named Northern Arizona University Director of Cross Country Eric Heins the NCAA Mountain Region Coach of the Year while also awarding the team's top-athlete Futsum Zienasellassie with the region's Male Athlete of the Year honor Tuesday afternoon.
For Heins, this is his third career XC Mountain Region COTY accolade as he also garnered the title back during the 2012 and 2013 seasons—both of which culminated in podium finishes at NCAA's.
This season, though, the region's top men's coach and his unanimously-ranked No. 1 Lumberjacks have their sights set on not just a top-four finish in Terre Haute on Saturday, but on winning the school's first national championship of any kind.
That goal begins with the performance of the Mountain Region's AOTY in Zienasellassie, who has been nothing short of spectacular in his final XC go-around. In three races this season, the redshirt-senior has secured a second-place finish at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and individual championship titles at both Big Sky Championships (second of his career) and NCAA Mountain Region Championships. This Saturday, Zienasellassie—a native of Indianapolis—will have an opportunity to build on an already incredible year on a XC course he is more than familiar with.
Contextually, this was the first AOTY award an NAU runner has won since Olympian and Lumberjack alumnus David McNeill accomplished the feat three years in a row (2008-2010). Under Heins' tutelage, this was the third Lumberjack athlete to receive such an award—Lopez Lomong in 2007, McNeill and now Zienasellassie. However, this is the only such occurrence during the Heins coaching era that both the region's COTY and AOTY honors when to NAU recipients—showcasing just how special his leadership and this team is.
As mentioned above, NCAA Championships will occur this Saturday, Nov. 19, in Terre Haute, Ind. The men's 10K championship race is slated to start at 10 a.m. Flagstaff time, noon locally in Indiana.
For the full list of the USTFCCCA regional coach and athlete of the year honorees, click here.