TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – It was a solid return to the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course for Northern Arizona junior Diego Estrada. The Salinas, Calif., native ran to a fifth-place finish (23:33.9), leading the men's team to fourth place in the 'Blue Race' at the Pre-National Invitational Saturday. The women's team also put forth a strong effort with two Lumberjacks finishing in the top 20 of the 'Open Race.'
Estrada was able to match his performance from a season ago by running with the lead pack throughout most of the race. With the fifth-place finish in the 8K-event, Estrada was able to push his string of consecutive top-five finishes to five.
"It was fun and encouraging knowing I had teammates behind me working hard," said Estrada, who recorded a 14:44 5K split. "This race is a good indicator of where I am. I won't just settle for these results because I have to work harder for the NCAA championships. I know as a team we can improve come November."
Director of Track and Field & Cross Country Eric Heins was pleased with the performances of Estrada and the rest of the Lumberjack men.
"I thought the men ran well in a highly competitive race," Heins said. "To be able to run this well without David (McNeill) showed a lot about them."
"Watching Diego run the way he did today was exciting to watch," Heins said. "It is always good to be able to see him hammer away with the top guys. I also was encouraged with Ahmed (Osman) and seeing him finish in the top 15 for his first race of the year."
Joining Estrada in the lead pack for the beginning of the race was Osman. The junior from San Diego, Calif., recorded a 14:55 5K split and eventually finished 13th in his season debut.
Senior Jason Pedersen (24:20.1), junior Andrew Belus (24:33.1) and sophomore Tim Freriks (24:42.7) rounded out the scoring for the Lumberjacks by finishing 38th, 61st and 75th, respectively. Junior Matt Coloe (24:51.7) and freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns (25:17.5) were the Lumberjacks' sixth and seventh finishers Saturday.
Senior Eric Lynch also made his season debut for the Lumberjacks in the men's 'Open Race' with a sixth-place finish in 24:51.
For the second-consecutive week it was another strong performance for sophomore Rochelle Kanuho. The Flagstaff native followed up last week's individual title at the Grand Canyon/Southwestern Invite with a fifth-place overall finish in the women's 6K race (21:58).
"That race was perfect for her since she was able to run against some great competition," Heins said of Kanuho. "For her to be able to run with the lead pack the entire race bodes well for her going into the post season races."
Junior Lisette Michaels matched her 6K-time from the Stanford Invitational (22:25) and finished 19th overall.
The biggest improvement Saturday came from freshman Carissa Gwerder. The Enumclaw, Wash., native turned in a time of 23:16, over a minute better then her previous 6K-time this year. She was followed by senior Danielle Hunt (23:18) and freshman Sarah Raber (23:19).
NAU returns to action Oct. 30 for the Big Sky Cross Country Championships from Spokane, Wash.