FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With the cross country postseason officially underway, the Northern Arizona men's and women's cross country teams head to Spokane, Wash., to compete in the Big Sky Cross Country Championship Saturday morning. Both squads will be vying for their fourth-consecutive conference titles. The men will hit the links of Fairways Golf Course at 10:00 a.m. PDT, with the women following at 11:00 a.m.
Both squads will face stiff competition, as five conference foes are ranked in the top 15 of the Mountain Region standings. Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins expects the rest of the conference to try and dethrone the defending champions come Saturday.
"We can expect a dogfight," Heins said. "There are a lot of teams who want to knock us out of winning our fourth-straight title."
The Lumberjacks will have senior David McNeill back in the fold Saturday as he looks for his third-consecutive men's individual title. With this being his final Big Sky event, Heins knows McNeill's consistency over the years has been a large part of the team's success in conference competition.
"He is really dependable and consist, always showing up with a competitive fire that is hard to come by," Heins said of the two-time national champion.
Pacing the men's team along with McNeill will be seniors Eric Lynch and Jason Pedersen, juniors Andrew Belus, Diego Estrada and Ahmed Osman and sophomore Tim Freriks.
Last year at the conference championships in Greeley, Colo., the Lumberjacks were able to place seven-of-eight competitors in the top 10 with Belus, McNeill, Osman and Pedersen earning Big Sky All-Conference recognition.
This year's conference championship for the women's team will be a whole new experience as all seven members traveling will be making their Big Sky cross country debuts.
The squad heads into Spokane with sophomore Rochelle Kanuho leading the way. The Flagstaff native has turned in two top-five finishes in her first career races, and Heins is counting on the Coconino High School product to deliver another solid performance this weekend.
"She will be someone who can finish in the top 10 or top five for us," Heins said. "Hopefully she will continue to do what she has already done for the team since making her debut."
Joining Kanuho in the women's 5K race will be senior Danielle Hunt, junior Lisette Michaels, sophomores Alex Myers and Lyndsey Rakestraw and freshmen Carissa Gwerder and Sarah Raber.
The Lumberjacks have dominated Big Sky competition in the 21st Century. Since 2000, NAU men and women have claimed both the individual and team titles eight times, including a four-year sweep by former national champion, Ida Nilsson.