CHENEY, Wash. – Led by senior David McNeill's third-straight individual title, the Northern Arizona men's cross country team successfully defended its Big Sky Championship for the fourth-consecutive year Saturday morning from Fairways Golf Course. The Lumberjack men placed all five scorers in the top 10 to give the squad 27 total points and the title.
"There are only so many spots in the race, and to be able to place all seven runners in the top 12 got me very excited," Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins said. "I think this gets everyone motivated moving further into the postseason. These results will also help our guys who finished lower for us today to bring their 'A' game these next two races."
NAU led the pack the entire race as McNeill and junior Diego Estrada pulled away from the field early on, finishing in times of 21:28 and 21:30, respectively, on the 8K course. It was the highest finish for Estrada at the conference championship, and McNeill is grateful to be able to have a teammate to run up front with.
"Full credit goes to Diego since he did all of the work," McNeill said. "I was having one of those difficult days, so that's when you really appreciate your teammates. Obviously I couldn't just not kick because Diego wouldn't have taken the win without a full competition. It was a pretty special win overall."
With two more races left in his NAU career, McNeill knows that his workouts are where he will make strides at the end of the year.
"This was a wake up call to show me that I have a little bit more work to do and that I need to recover more from my workouts and get through them healthy and rested," McNeill said. "The next two weeks will be focused on making those workouts really count."
Trailing McNeill and Estrada was sophomore Tim Freriks who wrapped up his first All-Conference honor with a sixth-place finish (22:17). Junior Amhed Osman placed eighth (22:24), two spots better than last year and senior Eric Lynch, in his first-ever Big Sky Championship, made the All-Conference team with a 10th-place finish (22:27).
Junior Andrew Belus (22:27) and senior Jason Pedersen (22:37) placed 11th and 12th, respectively.
Although the Lumberjack women were unable to defend their Big Sky title, the team put forth a solid effort to finish fifth in the conference.
The squad was once again led by sophomore Rochelle Kanuho who finished fifth overall, crossing the finish line in a career-best 5K time of 16:03 to garner All-Conference honors. The Flagstaff native mixed it up with the top runners in the Big Sky throughout the race.
"We had seven girls who never raced in the conference meet before today, and six of them are back for next year, so I think moving forward this experience will help them in the future," Heins said. "We are going to have a very good team in the next couple years with Kortnee (Burton) and Haley (Lawrence) returning, along with Rochelle and a group of top recruits coming to NAU."
Finishing behind Kanuho who was junior Lisette Michaels (16:46), freshman Carissa Gwerder (16:58), senior Danielle Hunt (17:06), sophomores Lyndsey Rakestraw (17:09) and Alex Myers (17:15) and freshman Sarah Raber (17:49).
The Lumberjacks continue the cross country postseason in two weeks with the NCAA Mountain Region Championships Nov. 12 in Salt Lake City, Utah.