TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – With NCAA Cross Country Championships tomorrow, some of the nation's best athletes and coaches gathered at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center this afternoon for a pre-race press conference.
Northern Arizona University Director of Cross Country Eric Heins and the No. 1 Lumberjacks' top-runner Futsum Zienasellassie attended and spoke on behalf of the team today. Both the coaches and athletes discussed, among other things, what it was like to be back in Indiana for national championships and what the mindsets were heading into tomorrow's men's and women's races.
On being in Terre Haute for nationals
"I'm fired up, this place is amazing. I grew up in Ohio, went to graduate school in Indiana, we have a couple athletes from the Midwest, my family is all here…it couldn't be much better for myself and our team. They're really excited for this opportunity."
Which athlete do you need a real good performance from tomorrow?
"It's going to be important for every one of our seven men to perform to the best of their abilities to end up on that podium tomorrow."
On handling and racing with the No. 1 ranking this season
"I think they handled it really well. It's a good mix of men: veterans and young guys that are new to the program who haven't really experienced this. We've tried to put a little bit of pressure on them to see how they would respond, and they've handled great."
"The next thing is to keep them loose and to make sure they enjoy this process because they know this race is wide open. There are a lot of good teams with a shot to win tomorrow. Our men have talked about it all year and they understand a ranking is just a ranking. It's a great honor and recognition, but they also respect the competition."
On if he and the program have learned any lessons from 2013
"We got second place that year after stringing together a lot of fourth-place finishes, so I was ecstatic we could get off fourth-place. We talked to the men after that race and we also had an alumnus from our '95 second-place team there and he reminded them that 10 years from now, even six months from now, you're going to remember and appreciate that you got second-place."
"It's no joke to get a top-four finish; it takes a lot of hard work. Again, you look at the programs up here and some of the championships these coaches have won, we understand a podium finish is a great accomplishment. I hope the men learn to save something for the last 2K, and I think we've done that in the majority of our podium-finish races. We have been sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th going into that last 2K before and we've moved up."
On being here in Terre Haute for nationals
"How ya'll doin'?...good. I'm honored and very excited to be here and to actually race in Terre Haute for the last cross country race of my career. I'm just honored to compete with these guys up here who have accomplished a lot of things in their careers. I'm happy and excited, for sure."
Individually, how can someone beat Edward Cheserek?
"We all know Cheserek is one of the greatest NCAA runners to come through college. So, from talking with him recently, I think the best way to beat Ches is to have my team beat his team. He seems like a team player, so he'll be pissed if my school beats his school. That's the way to beat him."
About competing as the No. 1 team and with Coach Heins leaving after this season
"We're very excited. Obviously, coach plans to go and spend time with his family in Texas, but we're focused on the opportunity that's ahead of us, and that's to win the first team national championship for NAU. All of our attention is on that."