FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - This year's cross country teams has its work cut out for them to improve on last year's success. With the men's team coming off a sixth consecutive Big Sky Conference cross country championship, finishing the season ranked fourth in the country and the women's team jumping from being ranked seventh in the Big Sky Conference to finishing last season ranked third, the bar has been set pretty high for Northern Arizona cross country.
Reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year Eric Heins returns an exciting group of talented runners that will look to build off last season's success. Senior Brian Shrader, a 2012 All-American, will be the leader for the NAU men as he looks to continue his success after placing 15th in last year's NCAA Cross Country Championships. The women's side faces the challenge of replacing their leader Rochelle Kanuho. This year's team will be led by a group of capable sophomores, Caroline Hogardh, Rolonda Jumbo and Melanie Townsend. These ladies are expected to be the front runners for this year's women's team. The 2013 NAU cross country schedule is one that will test just how good this team is.
"I am very excited about this schedule," said Heins. "We have a good mix of competitions that are close to home and competitions that will test us against the best in the country."
The NAU men return their entire roster from last season and are poised to have another great year. This team has the potential to finish the year on the podium once again. The Lumberjack men have a great combination of experience from the likes of Shrader and junior Matt McElroy, as well as young talent from the likes of sophomores Futsum Zienasellassie and Nathan Weitz. Top to bottom this group is capable of winning any meet they compete in. The Lumberjacks were voted unanimously by the coaches in the league to repeat as Big Sky Conference champions, garnering all eleven first place votes. The NAU men won the 2012 Big Sky Championship in convincing fashion taking the first (Shrader), second (McElroy) and third (Zienasellassie) spots. The rest of the Big Sky Conference will have its work cut out for them if the men of NAU are to be defeated.
Former graduate assistant now assistant coach Leah Rosenfeld will take on the responsibility of coaching the NAU women this season. Rosenfeld will have a mixture of both new and old faces this upcoming season. After a rough season in 2011 the ladies were able to bounce back with an encouraging year and will look to continue their climb to the top of the Big Sky Conference. Picked to finish second in the preseason coaches' poll, the NAU women are expected to be a major competitor for the Big Sky Conference championship this season. Jumbo will be an important piece of this year's team coming off a strong season as a true freshman. Finishing tenth at the Big Sky Conference Championships, Jumbo was the top freshman in her race. With a year of experience under her belt Jumbo is poised to be a threat in the Big Sky Conference during her sophomore campaign. The women's team will also look to newcomers Carolyn Bethel, Vanessa Estrada and Paige Gilchrist this season. It will be exciting to see what the NAU women have in store for the upcoming season.
The Lumberjacks open up their season on September 7th hosting the George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Ariz.