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Cross Country to Compete in Big Sky Championships at ISU

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona University men's and women's cross country teams will be in action at the Big Sky Cross Country Championships Saturday in Pocatello, Idaho.

"Our goal is to come away with two Big Sky championships," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "Hopefully our men can make some history by winning their fifth in a row, and we'd really like our women to get back to their winning ways and contend for a title as well."

The conference meet, hosted by Idaho State for the first time since 2002, has been a point of strength for both Lumberjack teams for the past two decades. The NAU men have won 15 of the last 18 Big Sky Championships, and the women have won 14 of the last 20.

The Lumberjack men would set a Big Sky record for consecutive team victories if they came away with the 2011 crown. NAU holds the current record of four straight wins, having accomplished the feat twice (1998-2001; 2007-10). Additionally, if a Lumberjack male runner wins the individual title, NAU will break its own record of six consecutive individual championships, dating back to 2005.

The meet will be held at the Idaho State Cross Country Course, with the women's 5K beginning at 9 a.m. Arizona time, followed by the men's 8K at 10 a.m.

Here is an overview of who will be competing for the Lumberjacks this Saturday in Idaho.

MEN

Diego Estrada: (Senior; Salinas, Calif.) An All-American and Big Sky runner-up a year ago, Estrada has been the team leader in his two regular season meets, winning the individual crown at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree and placing third at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. Look for at least another top-five finish from him this weekend.

Jordan Chipangama: (Senior; Lusaka, Zambia) The fifth-place national finisher in 2009, Chipangama returned to the team this season after missing all of 2010 due to injury. He solidified his spot as the team's number-two runner with a top-20 finish at Oklahoma State and a top-40 finish in Wisconsin.  He will be leading the pack of Lumberjack runners if Estrada makes a play for the win.

Tim Freriks: (Junior; Cottonwood, Ariz.) A competitor at the NCAA Championships last year and all-conference honoree at last year's Big Sky Championships, Freriks has emerged as a solid number-three for the Lumberjacks. Look for him to improve upon his sixth-place finish from last season.

 

Andrew Belus: (Senior; Phoenix, Ariz.) Another competitor from last year's postseason team, Belus adds valuable experience to the team that should help its younger performers reach their potential in the 2011 Big Sky meet. He has only competed in one race thus far due to an early-season injury.

 

Matt Coloe: (Senior; Melbourne, Australia) In just his second year with the Lumberjacks, Coloe looks to put his hard work from this season to good use at his first conference championship appearance. Look for him to score points for NAU once again after falling out of the top five at the Wisconsin meet.

 

Caleb Hoover: (Freshman; Joplin, Mo.) In his first meet as a collegiate athlete, Hoover burst onto the scene with a Top-10 finish at the George Kyte Classic. His performances since have been primarily based on gaining experience in larger meets at Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, so look for this freshman to make some moves this weekend.

Chris Ganem: (Freshman; Castle Rock, Colo.) Another freshman sensation, Ganem placed fifth at the Dave Murray Invitational, and competed for the Lumberjacks at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree. The ability for him to finish among the conference's elite is very much present, so look for a possible surprise on Saturday.

WOMEN

Rochelle Kanuho: (Junior; Flagstaff, Ariz.)  Kanuho has earned Big Sky Athlete of the Week honors twice this season, and has finished at the top of the list on the Lumberjack squad in every meet she has competed in.  She is a near-guarantee to finish in the Top-10, and has a decent chance to contend for the title if things fall into place.

 

Kortnee Burton: (Junior; Brea, Calif.)  Called a "machine" by Coach Heins in describing her style of competition, Burton is as much of a team leader as Kanuho.  She returned this season after missing the 2010 cross country campaign with an injury, but she was an all-conference honoree in 2009.  She will contribute a lot to the team goal of earning another conference crown. 

Caroline Hogardh: (Freshman; Halmstead, Sweden)  Hogardh is part of a tandem of international newcomers to the women's squad for 2011.  Traditionally a competitor in the 800-meter run, Hogardh has been a refreshing addition to NAU cross country, and has continued to get better as the season has progressed. Look for another strong improvement this weekend. 

Agnes Laurent: (Junior; Verviers, Belgium)  As the other half of the international pair, Laurent, also an 800-meter runner, has appeared as a solid top-five presence for the Lumberjacks.  While she is still getting accustomed to the cross country atmosphere, Laurent is used to running in adverse conditions in her home country, so she should have no trouble adapting to the Idaho fall weather.

Haley Lawrence: (Senior; Laguna Beach, Calif.)  The only other veteran on the team aside from Kanuho and Burton, Lawrence also missed 2010 due to injury, but has reemerged as the consistent number-five runner for NAU.  Her experience as a competitor in the past will serve as an anchor for the women as they attempt to capture the team title.

Lauren Justus: (Freshman; Glendora, Calif.)  A strong up-and-comer for the Lumberjacks who will make an impact through the next three years, Justus started the year with a top-10 finish at the George Kyte Classic.  She has maintained a constant presence on the women's team, making the sixth spot her own, but she has the potential to finish in the team top five at the conference meet.

Kylee Kieser: (Freshman; Casa Grande, Ariz.)  Kieser rounds out the Lumberjack squad in the seventh slot.  She competed in two events this season, and she led the four NAU runners at the Grand Canyon Invite earlier this year.  Kieser runs strong for a freshman, and the women's team should enjoy the added depth.