Cross-country readies for Big Sky tournament, eyeing Nationals
Big Sky Conference Championships are just around the corner for NAU’s cross-country teams, and senior Diego Estrada looks to lead the men’s squad to their fifth-consecutive first place finish at the conference tournament.
Estrada, a senior Spanish major from Salinas, Calif., is no stranger to receiving top-honors. Last year, he claimed All-American honors at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships after placing 16th overall. He also set a new record at the 2010 NCAA Mountain Region Championships, running the 10K race in 29 minutes and 33 seconds, and earning his first career All-Region honors. Estrada was awarded his second Big Sky Athlete of the Week honor for his performance in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, where he placed third overall and helped the men’s team place third, among 20 of the nation’s top 30 squads.
“I think [my greatest accomplishment] was Wisconsin, just getting the team enough points to go to Nationals,” Estrada said.
The senior runner has been documenting his wins, races and training this season on the social networking site INSTRIDE. His blog posts are deep and personal – discussing everything from the ups-and-downs of his running career, his reasons for running and the difficult workout schedules and training sessions.
“I’ve learned from past experiences that the more pressure I put on, the [worse] I perform,” Estrada said. “I need to be relaxed and just enjoy the process; wake up kind of giggly and just enjoy the day.”
Estrada will travel with three seniors, a junior and two freshmen. Among the seven are seniors Andrew Belus and Matt Coloe, and junior Tim Freriks, all of whom placed in the Big Sky tournament last season.
Junior parks and recreation management major Rochelle Kanuho looks to lead the women’s team to a conference win as well.
“As a team we are hoping to win,” Kanuho said. “Individually, I want to get top-5.”
Kanuho is the only returning championship runner for the women from last season, closing out her sophomore year with a 28th-place finish at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships.
“I think I’ve improved a lot,” Kanuho said. “I took this summer pretty easy. I think resting for three months really helped and getting stronger and weight lifting. I think I’m a lot faster now.”
As both teams head into the conference championship, Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Eric Heins seems to be focused on one thing – winning.
“The goal is to win the conference championship,” Heins said. “The guys haven’t lost in a while, I think this will be the fifth-straight [win], so this would tie a record for the Big Sky. And for the women, we lost last year and we were fifth, so it’ll be a challenge to get back up there and try to beat some of those teams that were ahead of us.”
Coach Heins feels both the men and the women, despite some alterations, additions and injuries throughout the season, are finally hitting their strides.
“The seasons is set up already,” Heins said. “I set up a plan. Twelve weeks long and we go through [different] stages of our training. And now we are in the stages where we run race-paced workouts to get the teams ready to go out and run fast for the end of the season.”
The Lumberjacks look to keep their fast stride when they travel to the Big Sky Conference Championship on Oct. 29 in Pocatello, Idaho.