Lumberjack distance program recruits to continue program dominance
The NAU distance running program has established itself as an honor to be a part of over the past decade. With ardent camaraderie between strong, knowledgeable coaches and ambitious athletes, the Lumberjacks have designated themselves as a squad for competitors to be wary of.
These past cross country and track and field seasons have made further strides in the strength of the program. Since 1984, the men’s cross country team has had a top–15 finish 18 times, including its 14th place honors this past season at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Phenom Diego Estrada placed seventh overall in the meet, earning All–American honors for his second consecutive year — a feat that places him as the 11th Lumberjack to achieve the award within the five year tenure of director of track and field and cross country Eric Heins. More recently, on April 29, Estrada was not only named NAU Male Athlete of the Year, but qualified for the London Olympics this summer after hitting the Olympic ‘A’ Standard in the 10K at Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational at Cobb Track and Angell Field, with a time of 27:32.90.
The 2010 NAU Male Athlete of the Year, alumnus David McNeill, graduated in December 2010 as the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Mountain Region and Big Sky Cross Country champion and U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Mountain Region Cross Country Athlete of the Year those seasons. Meanwhile, holder of four school records, Lopez Lomong represented the 2008 United States Olympic team as the flag bearer and in the 1,500–meter run. Lomong graduated this past December a two–time National Champion and 12–time Big Sky Conference individual champion.
All three individuals also hold multiple All–American honors.
With accomplishments and marks such as these, the future of the distance program looks bright, especially with the addition of incoming recruits who are sure to increase their status as renowned runners this upcoming year. For the first time ever, NAU has signed two of the top three male distance runners in the country, both of whom were Foot Locker Cross Country finalists.
The third-place finalist in the 2011 Foot Locker National Championships and Spokane, Wash. native Nathan Weitz will bring talent to the men’s team and looks to add to his impressive resume. He has a second place finish at the 2011 Washington State 3A Cross Country Championships, where he took gold the year before. He won the 2010 Division II Nike Pre–Nationals in the 5,000–meters race and was a member of Team USA’s junior squad in the Bupa Great Ediburgh Cross Country International Challenge in Edinburg, Scotland.
All too familiar with competing against Weitz in national meets, Gatorade National Cross Country Runner of the Year, Indianapolis, Ind. native Futsum Zienasellassie, will also join not only the Lumberjack squad, but his older brother, junior Bahlbi Gebreyohanns, as well. Zienasellassie was the 2011 Nike Cross Country Nationals Final champion with a course–record time of 15:02.41. He also outran his competitors at the NXN Midwest Regional Championships (15:42.80) and at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional Championships (14:58). This past season he won his third–consecutive Indiana State Cross Country Championship and placed second for his second straight year at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
Nervous only about college life in general, Zienasellassie, a strawberry-flavor Gatorade fan, who prefers to not adorn socks while racing, hopes to make it to the NCAA team this year.
“Running means a lot to me; it is a way to pay for my college education. It brings joy to my life and I enjoy it so much,” Zienasellassie said. “Being a part of a team means a lot to me. It is all about helping each other and not letting anyone fall behind, help each other to get better.”
Another incoming recruit who will help Zienasellassie’s wish is Gatorade Arkansas Runner of the Year, Bentonville, Ark. native Will Aenchbacher. Aenchbacher was the first Bentonville High athlete to receive the Gatorade honors and led his team to the title in the 2011 Class 7A Cross Country State Championships, where he garnered the individual state title as well. He also represented his state as its fastest competitor at the Nike Cross Nationals South Regional Championships.
A strong advocate of Glacier Freeze Gatorade for its perfect combination of flavor and its rehydration capabilites after a run, Aenchbacher felt right at home during his visit with the team.
“All the guys seem really neat and motivated, and I can’t wait to run with them next year,” Aenchbacher said. “I love being pushed in practice, and it gives me something to race for, instead of just myself.”
The women’s cross country team will also be gaining high prospects. Melbourne, Australia native Melanie Townsend is excited to practice with more than the one or two other runners she trains normally with, as well as meeting new people and competing against more prestigious athletes.
“I chose NAU [for] its location, coaches and program. I’ve heard a lot about training at Flagstaff and the amount of athletes that train there in the lead-up to events,” Townsend said. “As I prefer to run cross country, the program set by the coaches and facilities at NAU looked like they suited what I was after.”
This grape and lime Gatorade lover placed sixth in the 2010 International School Sport Federation World School Cross Country Championships in Slovakia, fifth in the 2010 Zatopek Classic’s Under–20 Women’s 3K race and first in the 2010 U–18 1,500–meter All–Victoria Schools Championships in Australia.
Back in the states, the women’s team will add Arizona natives Emma Schraner from Cornville and Rolonda Jumbo from Chinle to their roster.
Schraner will be the third athlete from Mingus Union High School to become a Lumberjack, joining fellow alumni Tim Freriks and Sarah Raber.
“I can not wait to run alongside such unique and talented people,” Schraner said. “Everyone on the team seems friendly and exuberant, which makes me feel as though I have known them forever.”
She finished seventh in the mile and eighth in the two–mile race in the 2011 AIA Division III State Championships. Schraner turned to running after discovering she could keep up with the boys in her physical education class in middle school, despite her self–proclaimed lack of coordination, and has had her eyes set on becoming a Lumberjack ever since. Schraner prefers to run with her hair down when she competes and like future teammate Aenchbacher, enjoys Glacier Freeze Gatorade as well as Tropical Mango.
Jumbo will be as strong of a contributor to the squad with her experience encompassing a 2011 AIA Division III Cross Country State Championships victory as well as a state title in the 3,200–meter race at the 2011 AIA Division III State Track and Field Championships.
With the conclusion of the cross country season, these runners will continue into the track and field season alongside one of the top junior sprinters in the world from Canada, Isatu Fofanah, Arizona native thrower Travis Colby, Idaho hurdler and multi-event standout Jade Childs [younger sibling of sprinter Jenne Childs] and Swedish throwers Julia Wiberg and Micael Ljungber, among others.
The Lumberjacks have high expectations for these accomplished recruits and these incoming athletes will be sure to continue fostering NAU’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with.