FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University men's and women's cross country teams will travel to Provo, Utah this Saturday to compete in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships. Both teams are coming off solid performances at the Big Sky Championships in Pocatello, Idaho two weeks ago, where the women took third and the men won their fifth-consecutive title.
The teams will be led by Big Sky champion Diego Estrada on the men's side, and junior All-Big Sky honorees Kortnee Burton and Rochelle Kanuho on the women's side. Estrada's first-place finish at the conference meet, along with teammate Jordan Chipangama's second-place mark, propelled the Lumberjack men to their fifth-consecutive Big Sky crown. NAU's women finished in third place, which was a respectable finish considering the youth of their team and the toughness of the course.
"Both our men's and women's teams are looking really solid going into the race," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "They have hit the workouts well as a group, and we're just looking forward to going in and finishing a little higher than what we're ranked."
The Lumberjack men are currently ranked third in the Mountain Region, behind only BYU and Colorado, both of whom are national top-ten teams. Estrada and Chipangama will provide a great one-two punch for NAU, but the difference between winning the meet and taking third will no doubt be determined by the finishes of the team's third, fourth, and fifth runners.
Thankfully for the Lumberjacks, all three of those runners (Tim Freriks, Matt Coloe, and Andrew Belus) have experienced postseason action prior to 2011, and all three placed in the top 11 at this year's Big Sky Championships. The remaining two Lumberjack runners, freshman Caleb Hoover and senior John Yatsko, both had success earlier in the season, so NAU will enjoy valuable depth with their sixth and seventh runners.
The women have maintained an eighth place ranking in the region for the majority of the season, but their growth since the beginning of season suggests that they could make a play for a higher finish. The Lumberjack women saw strong performances from Burton and Kanuho at the conference meet, and the team used solid races from two of its four newcomers to earn a third-place finish. However, the course in Provo lends itself much more to the team's strengths than did the course in Pocatello.
Senior Haley Lawrence brings three years of postseason race experience to the women's squad, and the course will benefit the likes of middle-distance-familiar freshman Caroline Hogardh and junior Agnes Laurent. The experience of a higher-stakes atmosphere like that of the conference meet will also benefit fellow freshmen Kylee Kieser and Lauren Justus as they complete the NAU seven.
The NCAA Mountain Region Championships will be held at the East Bay Golf Course in Provo, Utah. The women's race is scheduled to start at 11 a.m MDT, and the men will follow at 12:15.