FLAGSTAFF, Ariz – The Northern Arizona University men's and women's cross country teams will face their toughest test of the season thus far as they travel to Oklahoma State's Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla. on Saturday.
"We're going to be putting our top runners into action this weekend," said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "I'm really looking forward to seeing what both teams can accomplish at this meet."
Heins is set to unleash senior All-Americans Diego Estrada and Jordan Chipangama for the first time this season on the men's side, as well as 2009 All-Big Sky honoree Kortnee Burton for the women. Burton, who missed all of last season with an injury, will see her first action in Lumberjack gold since earning postseason honors two years ago.
The Lumberjacks held out its top runners and used its first two meets as a "preseason" determination of which runners on the talented squads would make the top seven.
The competition this weekend will be the best the Lumberjacks have seen this year, with four nationally-ranked teams competing on the men's side, including the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. While the women's race doesn't feature ranked talent, the Lumberjack women will still face a number of Division-I squads that they have yet to run against in 2011.
The 13th-ranked Lumberjacks are competing in Oklahoma for the first time since 2009, when the men's team swept the team and individual titles at the Cowboy Jamboree. Chipangama, the 2009 champion, and Estrada, who took fifth two years ago, will be looking to lead their team to another victory.
"I believe that in order to compete against the best, you have to run against the best," Heins said before the 2009 meet.
NAU's women experienced a strong finish in 2009 as well, placing fourth. Burton and fellow senior Haley Lawrence competed in that meet, so their experience against the strong field will be valuable in leading a relatively young women's team into action on Saturday.
The men's lineup for Saturday, aside from Chipangama and Estrada, features five runners that have all finished in the top-10 at a meet this season. Junior Tim Freriks, who competed as a freshman in Oklahoma in 2009, placed second at the Lumberjacks' home meet a month ago. Fellow junior Matt Coloe will also race, along with senior John Yatsko and freshmen sensations Caleb Hoover and Chris Ganem.
On the women's side, two-time Big Sky Cross Country Athlete of the Week Rochelle Kanuho will lead the team, but will have great support from Lawrence and Burton, as well as junior Agnes Laurent, and freshmen Caroline Hogardh, Kerri Lenihan, and Lauren Justus.
The women's 6K race is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. Arizona time, with the men's 8K following at 7:35 a.m.