Men’s cross country sweeps top three at Big Sky Championships, wins sixth-straight title
By Mark Saunders
The Northern Arizona University (NAU) men’s cross country team became the first men’s team in Big Sky Conference history to amass six consecutive titles after it claimed the Big Sky Cross Country Championship on its home course at Buffalo Park.
In a blur of yellow across the finish line, junior Brian Shrader, sophomore Matt McElroy and freshman Futsum Zienasellassie took first, second and third with a time of 24:55 and two times of 24:56, respectively, in the men’s 8K competition.
Sophomore Caleb Hoover, sophomore Cody Reed, freshman Alejandro Montano, senior Roman Acosta and sophomore Chris Ganem would follow in seventh, 11th, 12th, 23rd and 29th, respectively, giving the Lumberjacks four top-10 finishers and the full squad within the top 30.
Coach Eric Heins said the team’s depth of talent has been an important feature to develop this season and looks forward to seeing how that aspect strengthens the team as they move onto regional competition.
“The depth is what’s different from our team last year,” Heins said. “So the depth is there. One guy can have an off day and the other guys are going to step it up.”
Shrader, whose win marks his third individual win this season, said the race could not have ended better.
“This is what we’ve been visualizing and training for; to go one, two, three and do it as a team, as long as there’s a Lumberjack jersey crossing that finish line first. We were able to get three at the same time ,so that’s a perfect scenario right there,” Shrader said.
McElroy said the plan to hold the lead as a pack is what they have trained for all season.
“I went into the race thinking to just try and group it up with [Shrader and Zienasellassie],” McElroy said. “[We] basically practice the same way, we run as a pack. Cross country is not about the individual, it’s about five guys who want to score. We came up here just to execute that.”
Heins said Reed and Hover showed amazing determination to rank highly, which also helped to push NAU further ahead in the point total. He added the race allowed McElroy specifically to become more comfortable on the course.
“I think, individually, Matt McElroy got a lot of confidence this weekend,” Heins said. “He needed that little confidence boost, so I think regionals for him will be great.”
The men’s squad won the meet with 24 points followed by Weber State [54 points] and Big Sky newcomer Southern Utah University [57 points]. The men’s squad now joins the ranks with the NAU women’s cross country teams of 1987-1992 who have long held the title as the only team to string together six consecutive conference titles.
The men’s team laces up again on Nov. 10 in Fort Collins, Colo. for the Mountain Region Championship men’s 10K race.
“It’s obviously important to win Big Sky,” Shrader said. “We’ve got big goals for Nationals.”
McElroy added, “This is just the first step.”