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Lumberjacks Gear Up for Pre-Nationals Invitational

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With a handful of races under their belts, the NAU cross country teams head to Terre Haute, Ind. this weekend to take part in the Indiana State Pre-Nationals Invitational. The men will take the course first at 8:00 a.m. MST, and the women will follow at 9:55 a.m.

After an off week following the Cowboy Jamboree, Interim Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins has his teams excited and prepared to race Saturday morning.

“Our strategy’s this weekend will differ with the men looking to have three to four guys that can finish in the top 25,” Heins said. “We want to put ourselves into that position where we can finish that high. In the women’s race we are a little more spread out, but we have two to three girls that can move into that top 30. That is what we will shoot for as our goal.”

Heading to Indiana this weekend from the men’s team will be juniors Ben Ashkettle, Jordan Chipangama, Jason Pedersen and David McNeill. Sophomores Andrew Belus, Diego Estrada and Ahmed Osman will also race Saturday.

For McNeill, this will be his first race of the season after a long summer that included a second-place finish in the 5,000m final at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., in June. McNeill also competed in the 10,000m final at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Germany, where he ran for his home country of Australia. After practicing with his teammates for a few weeks, McNeill is excited to hit the course Saturday.

“I started thinking about this race a couple of weeks ago,” McNeill said. “I have been back running for six weeks now and I am feeling fit. I am looking forwa rd to do what I love, and that is going out and racing.

Although McNeill hasn’t taken part in any races yet this season, his teammates have picked up the slack and helped the team vault up the rankings to No. 2 in the nation.

“For me to have the kind of talent on our team it helps because now in practice I have three training partners at the front, where as last year it was kind of just me alone,” McNeill said. “It makes your job more enjoyable. What they did at Oklahoma, and adding me to the mix this weekend, it is very exciting.”

This will be the stiffest test thus far for the Lumberjacks this season with the men’s field consisting of 72 teams, including four of the top-five ranked teams in nation. In the women’s race, 75 squads will hit the course with many top-ranked opponents participating.

Traveling to Indiana on the women’s side will be senior Nell Rojas, juniors Nikki Codd and Astrid Leutert, sophomores Kortnee Burton, Eliza Gawryluk and Haley Lawrence and freshman Torin Shriver.

Last year at Pre-Nationals, the women finished 10th out of 39 teams and the men took second place out of 41 squads, with McNeill finishing second overall.