FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The first taste of action for the Northern Arizona University men's and women's cross country teams will commence Saturday afternoon from Buffalo Park in Flagstaff with the 32nd Annual George Kyte Classic.
"This first meet will be an experience for a lot of people, running their first 5K or 8K at 7,000 feet in a racing mode," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "It still will hopefully allow both teams to learn what each other's strengths are and learn to try and run together as a pack, that will be a really good stepping stone for us going into the rest of the season."
The Lumberjacks will field 16 total runners (nine men, seven women) on Saturday, seven of whom will be competing in Lumberjack gold on the cross country course for the first time.
Also hoping to make a splash for the men will be newcomer and former three-time Arizona Gatorade Athlete of the Year Brian Shrader, who is running at home for the first time since graduating from Sinagua High School in 2010.
"This is his home course," said Heins. "He ran a lot of races at Buffalo Park in high school and even won some races there, so I want him to go in there and start off his season by carrying over his training into his racing."
Of the seven NAU women running Saturday, only one junior will be in the mix—Mingus Union grad Sarah Raber. Raber finished 28th overall at last year's meet, good enough for seventh on the team.
Four sophomores and two freshmen round out the rest of the George Kyte roster for the women, including 2011 Big Sky and Mountain Region Championship competitors Kylee Kieser and Lauren Justus. Justus was the No. 2 finisher for NAU at 2011's George Kyte
Arizona State's Darius Terry won last season's men's 8K race in a time of 25:38.8, while the women's 5K race was taken by unattached runner Stephanie Pezzullo in 17:05.6.
The Lumberjack men are looking for their first team win since winning four-straight from 2007-2010, while the women hope for their first since 2009. An NAU runner has not won medalist honors at the George Kyte since 2009, when Diego Estrada and Veronica Pohl swept the men's and women's titles.
Traveling to the meet are Lumberjack in-state rivals Arizona and Arizona State, Big Sky Conference newcomer Southern Utah, and NCAA Division-II schools Grand Canyon University and Dixie State College. Pima, Scottsdale, and Estrella Mountain Community Colleges will also be competing.
The collegiate races at the George Kyte Classic get underway Saturday with the women at 1:30 p.m. Arizona time, followed by the men at 2:15.