OGDEN, Utah – The Northern Arizona University men's cross country team was selected by the Big Sky Conference coaches to win a sixth-consecutive conference crown, according to the league's recently-released preseason poll. The Lumberjack women, who placed third in the Big Sky Championships a year ago, were picked to finish second behind defending champion Weber State.
"The dynamic of our team has been amazing so far," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "It's a neat team on the men's side, because I don't see us having that one frontrunner like we've had in the past, but I see us having a very tight pack of guys. It will be really important that those guys get along well and are able to train well and run well together in races."
The NAU men, who set a Big Sky Conference record last season with a fifth-straight team crown, will look remarkably different in the 2012 season, due mostly to the departure of five seniors, including five-time All-American and 2012 Olympian Diego Estrada.
The new-look Jacks will look to a sophomore, Big Sky Outdoor 5,000-meter champion Caleb Hoover, for returning leadership. However, the squad will be made up in large part by a slew of freshmen and transfer athletes. 2011 Foot Locker Nationals runner-up Futsum Zienasellassie and bronze medalist Nathan Weitz hope to make noise as incoming freshman, as will Oregon transfer and Flagstaff native Brian Shrader, Oklahoma State transfer Matt McElroy, and Syracuse transfer Roman Acosta.
The Lumberjack women will be led by senior and Flagstaff native Rochelle Kanuho in returning five runners from 2011, while Melbourne, Australia-native Melanie Townsend leads a talented freshmen class heading into 2012.
"The women are really pretty similar to the men, but the difference from last year's team will be that our 4-5-6-7 runners are going to be up closer to where our 1-2-3 runners were last year," said Heins. "So that, again, will hopefully have the ladies running better together this season as a group."
Voting is calculated by each team receiving 11 points for a first place vote, 10 points for a second place vote, etc. Coaches are allowed to vote for their respective teams. Below are the final results with the number of first place votes in parentheses.
The Lumberjacks begin their season on Sept. 1 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff for the annual George Kyte Classic.