GREELEY, Colo. – The Northern Arizona cross country teams, dealing with frigid temperatures and a muddy course, were able to take home the Big Sky Championship for the third-consecutive year. Junior David M cNeill and senior Veronica Pohl captured the individual titles once again for the Lumberjacks, as the duo accomplished the same feat in 2008.
Interim Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins was very pleased to once again be called champions of the Big Sky. The efforts of both teams to take home the title was very pleasing to the third-year coach.
“For the men our strategy was to get out in front right away, but we weren’t able to do that until we got to the muddy part of the course,” Heins said. “I think because we weren’t out in front immediately, we had a lot left in the tank for the end of the race. It was a great team effort for the men to have the whole team finish in the top 15.”
Heins was excited for Pohl to win the individual title once again, but was thoroughly impressed by the effort of sophomore Kortnee Burton (19:27) today.
“She put herself around the tenth spot right away in the race, and then worked her way up to fifth with about a mile left,” Heins said. “She then passed up all of those girls to finish second. That was great to see her finish up there.”
After suffering a side stitch at Pre-Nationals two weeks ago and finishing 61st overall, McNeill knew his fitness was there by the way he was practicing. This week he proved he is truly back in top form by his first place finish in 24:35, 56 seconds better then second-place finisher Jordan Chipangama (25:31).
“It was important to me to prove to myself that I am doing the right training, and that I am fit,” McNeill said. “All indications were that I was and today confirmed that with me. Today I just stayed relaxed and ran my own race from the start.”
McNeill was excited for his teammates’ efforts today, especially for fellow junior Kam Holbrook who finished seventh overall and fifth on the team (25:54).
“I think he surprised a few people today,” said McNeill about Holbrook. “He had the run of his life today and he is very happy about, which he should be.”
Holbrook, a native of Wyoming, noted that today’s muddy conditions played into his strengths in today’s championship race.
“I am a little more used to running in the muddy conditions being from Wyoming,” said Holbrook. “I think that definitely played into my hand today. I couldn’t of done it today without the help of my teammates, especially Andrew Belus who ran right there with me the whole time. With a mile to go I made a push because I knew I had to make the most of this opportunity. It worked out really well for me today.”
Also finishing near the top for the No. 5 men’s team were juniors Ben Ashkettle (25:32), who placed third, and Jason Pedersen (25:51), crossing the stripe in sixth. Sophomores Andrew Belus (25:58) and Ahmed Osman (26:11) finished eighth and tenth respectively. Freshman Tim Freriks (26:47) rounded out the Lumberjacks today with a 15th-place finish.
The women’s squad, led by the first-place finish of Pohl (19:07), received outstanding effort today from sophomores Burton and Haley Lawrence (19:54). Senior Nell Rojas (20:07.5) and junior Astrid Leutert (20:07.5) rounded out the scoring today for the Lumberjacks with ninth and tenth-place finishes respectively as they crossed the stripe at the exact same time.
“Today’s race was not the easiest,” Pohl said. “We couldn’t prepare on the course the much because it was so muddy and they had changed the course yesterday. I think most of us ran really well today and I enjoyed seeing that. Overall, we are very happy to be Big Sky Champions again.”
Running in their first Big Sky Championship race, freshman Torin Shriver and sophomore Eliza Gawryluk finished 12th and 18th respectively.
The Lumberjacks have an off week before they take part in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., on November 14.