FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In following the leadership of All-American Diego Estrada and two-time Big Sky Cross Country Athlete of the Week Rochelle Kanuho, the Northern Arizona University men's and women's cross country teams should stack up well against a slew of national talent at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Friday in Madison, Wisc.
"Our men and women competed well two weeks ago in Oklahoma, so we're looking for another strong showing to back those up," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "Going to Wisconsin will allow us to compete against, and hopefully defeat, some other top teams from outside of our region."
Twenty of the 40 men's teams and 19 of the 42 women's teams competing are ranked in the national top-30, so the Lumberjacks should have their work cut out for them.
Both teams showed strong performances at their last meet, the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree, held in Stillwater, Okla. on Oct. 1. The men tied for third place behind an incredible performance by Estrada. Overcoming a nine-second deficit and turning it into a 13-second lead in the final mile showed a resilience and determination in Estrada's leadership that just might lead the Lumberjack men to another high finish this weekend.
In addition to Estrada, NAU's men will rely heavily on fellow veterans Jordan Chipangama, Matt Coloe, Andrew Belus, who will make his 2011 debut this weekend, and Tim Freriks, and expect to see significant races from cross country newcomers John Yatsko and Caleb Hoover. Yatsko, a senior who has run middle distance for the track and field team the past three seasons, and Hoover, a true freshman, both have notched top-10 finishes at earlier races in their first season with NAU cross country.
On the women's side, the team will again be led by Kanuho and junior Kortnee Burton, who made her first appearance, and her first top-10 finish, of the season in Oklahoma. The duo combined for 15 points in a meet that featured over 320 runners, so look for a similar performance in Wisconsin on Friday.
The Lumberjack women will have the same supporting cast this week as well, with senior Haley Lawrence, junior Agnes Laurent, and freshmen Caroline Hogardh, Lauren Justus, and Kerri Lenihan rounding out the top seven. The team, though it features four runners who have never competed in Lumberjack gold before this season, is becoming more and more cohesive with each meet.
"This meet will be a huge test for the women," said Heins. "In our last meet we finished ahead of some teams that are close to a national ranking, and we have been getting closer to running with some of the country's top teams. Hopefully this will give us an idea of whether we have the team that can make nationals this year."
The Wisconsin Adidas Invitational is scheduled to begin with the women's race at 11 a.m. Arizona time, with the men's race following at 11:40.