Eric Heins is in his seventh season as the head coach of the cross country teams at Northern Arizona University, and fourth year as the Director of Track & Field and Cross Country. He has won 12 Big Sky Championships and produced six top-11 national finishes in his first seven seasons at NAU.
In his seven years since returning to Flagstaff, Heins has been named coach of the year by the Big Sky Conference 21 times, including five honors from the 2013-14 seasons thanks to the Lumberjack men’s sixth triple crown in school and Big Sky Conference history and a sweep of the track & field championships by the Lumberjack women. Heins was also honored as the Mountain Region Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association in 2010.
Heins' group was dominant in the Big Sky during the track & field season. Both the Lumberjack men and women swept both the indoor and outdoor championships. The outdoor championship was won here in Flagstaff, the first time the Lumberjack women have won the outdoor championship since 2006. The track & field season was highlighted by All-American performances by Brian Shrader during the indoor season and Caleb Hoover during the outdoor season. A total of 18 athletes competed at the NCAA National Championships during the track & field season.
This past fall, the NAU cross country squads under Heins’ tutelage had successful seasons across the board. The NAU men’s squad made history with their record seventh-consecutive Big Sky Championship, and eighth-consecutive individual title. The Lumberjack men finished No. 2 in the country led by All-American performances by Futsum Zienasellassie, Matt McElroy and Brian Shrader.
The track & field team continued to prove its greatness during the 2013 season. Heins led the men’s team to Big Sky crowns cranking out 143.5 at the indoor championship held in Bozeman, Mont., and putting up 143 at the outdoor meet in Forest Grove, Ore. Heins’ men’s mid-distance group took home a total of six individual Big Sky titles during the indoor and outdoor seasons.
The women’s track and field teams, under Heins’ tutelage, finished third at the Big Sky Outdoor Championships and sixth at the indoor meet during the 2013 season. Rolonda Jumbo finished second in the women’s 10,000 meter run during her freshman campaign at the Big Sky Outdoor Championships. In addition, Rochelle Kanuho finished third in the women’s 5,000 meter run at the Big Sky Indoor Championships.
The Lumberjacks thrived in Heins’ first full season as Director of Track and Field. Junior Diego Estrada led the group with a pair of top-10 finishes at the indoor and outdoor national meets in the 5,000-meter run. Heins’ leadership also produced a collective six Big Sky Conference individual titles, including two from Estrada.
In the fall of 2010, NAU’s cross country teams continued their powerful presence as one of the premier programs in the country. In his fourth season as head coach of cross country, Heins produced a fourth consecutive conference title on the men’s side, and coached an injury-depleted women’s squad to a respectable fifth-place finish in the same meet. At the national meet, the Lumberjack men placed ninth behind All-America performances from Estrada and Ahmed Osman. For his efforts, Heins earned his seventh coach of the year honor from the Big Sky Conference.
Serving as the Interim Director of Track and Field, the 2010 track and field campaign under Heins’ direction saw the program collect its first national champion in three seasons, as senior David McNeill won both the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter run titles. Under the tutelage of Heins, McNeill rewrote the record books at NAU in both the indoor and outdoor 5Ks, as well as giving the program its highest finish (T-8) when he scored 18 points at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
The 2009 cross country campaign proved to be a historic one for the program as the season culminated with the men’s team finishing fourth overall at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Heins coached junior David McNeill to his third-straight All-American award as he finished runner-up in the race. Junior Jordan Chipangama finished fifth to give the Lumberjacks their first ever duo to finish in the top five at the NCAA Championships. Senior Veronica Pohl, the lone member of the women’s team to run in Terre Haute, Ind., landed her second-consecutive All-American award after finishing 38th.
The combination of top finishes at the cross country and track and field championships by the men’s team during 2009-10, yielded the Lumberjacks a third-place finish in the final standings for the NCAA Division I John McDonnell Program of the Year Award awarded by the USTFCCCA.
In 2008-09, the men’s cross country team finished sixth at the NCAA Championships, while the women finished 23rd overall in posting their second consecutive top 25 finish. The men’s sixth-place finish at the 2008 NCAA Championships marked just the second time in NAU history that the Lumberjacks have posted back-to-back top-six finishes. They were led by McNeill (15th overall) and Pohl (16th overall), who were both named to their respective All-American teams. McNeill was named Mountain Region Male Athlete of the Year, capturing the region title to keep the title in the program for the second straight year.
Both the men and women also captured Big Sky Conference championships for the second consecutive season in 2008, as McNeill and Pohl were crowned individual champions. The men placed six runners in the top-10, scoring just 19 points, while the women had three top-ten finishers.
The 2009 indoor and outdoor track seasons produced three Big Sky team championships led by a strong distance group. McNeill ran to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships in the 5000m, while freshman Ahmed Osman earned All-America honors in the 10,000m. Pohl, Diego Estrada and Nell Rojas also advanced to the NCAA Championships.
Heins was hired in September 2007 and in two months time his teams were making history in Terre Haute, Ind. The men’s team finished fourth and the women’s team took seventh at the 2007 NCAA Cross Country Championships, to mark the first time in the storied history of the NAU cross country program that both teams have finished in the top eight nationally.
Heins produced three All-Americans in his rookie year at NAU. Lopez Lomong finished third at the championships, with McNeill taking 10th to garner national honors. On the women’s side, Heins coached freshman Ilsa Paulson to All-American status on the merit of her national finish. Nine of Heins’ runners were named to the All-Conference team, as well as seven to the 2007 All-Region team.
Lomong, who won the Big Sky and Mountain Region titles in 2007, went on to make the United States Olympic team in 2008 in the 1500m and represented his country as the flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing.
For returning the men’s and women’s Big Sky Championships to Flagstaff in 2007, Heins was selected as the Big Sky Cross Country Coach of the Year for both teams, as voted on by the conference’s coaches.
Back on the track, Heins coached McNeill (1,500m, 5,000m), Ben Ashkettle (steeplechase), and Lesley van Miert (1,500m) to conference championships in the 2008 outdoor season.
McNeill and Van Miert would advance to the NCAA Championships, where McNeill would finish fourth (13:42.17) and Van Miert would take ninth (16:20.66) in their respective 5,000m finals.
Academically, the cross country teams have received the USTFCCCA All-Academic Team award five times under his direction while 20 student-athletes have earned a combined 26 Big Sky All-Academic honors. McNeill was named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America team in 2009 and 2010.
His first women’s team was given the honor of being named an Academic All-American team, based on their combined grade point average of 3.42 in the fall semester.
Heins returned to NAU from Texas Christian University, where he served as an assistant during the 2006-07 season. In his only season with the TCU Frogs, he took both the men’s and women’s teams to top 10 finishes at the NCAA South Central Regional. In addition, he saw five of his runners honored as Mountain West Conference Scholar-Athletes.
From 2001-03, Heins served as an assistant for the Lumberjacks under then-Head Coach Ron Mann. During his first tenure, the men’s team finished as high as fourth place at the NCAA Championships, while the women took home a 10th place finish. From there Heins went to Southeast Missouri State, where he spent three years coaching the Redhawks to six different Ohio Valley Conference Championships.
Heins, who began his coaching career as an assistant in 2000 at Indiana, ran for Cincinnati from 1995-99, while earning his bachelor’s degree in health promotion and education. At the 1997 Indoor Conference USA Championships, he achieved his highest individual accomplishment by placing third in the 3000 meters. He also notched top 10 finishes in both the indoor and outdoor 5,000 meters, as well as the outdoor 10,000 meters.
In 2001, Heins earned a master’s in kinesiology from Indiana. In November 2007 he competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon in New York, N.Y. Other accolades include winning the St. Louis Marathon in 2004 and placing first in his age group, and fifth overall, in the 2000 Marine Corps Marathon.