STILLWATER, Okla. (March 15, 2021) – It’s a historic day in Stillwater, Okla. as Northern Arizona University’s men’s cross country team wins their fourth national title in five years and the NAU women place 11th overall.
Smart Racing At The Start
The Lumberjack men started the race together, and finished as a united team, scoring a total of 60 points, the lowest team champion score since 2005. A national champion team has not placed four men within the top-10 since 2003.
“That was a hard course to be running that fast upfront, and they were in a lot of distress early, but maintained a lot of composure to protect those positions,” Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Michael Smith said.
Running in a four-man pack for most of the race, the NAU men highlighted the team’s depth by taking turns leading each other through the hills of the OSU Cross Country Course.
All-American senior Blaise Ferro was the NAU frontman through the first kilometer of the race, quickly giving the reins to All-American senior Luis Grijalva who set the Lumberjack tempo through the next three kilometers.
Once the Lumberjack men were able to maneuver through the first leg of the course it became about maintaining position and taking it one step at a time.
Making The Moves
At the halfway mark, All-American sophomore Abdihamid Nur took control, passing the lead role back to teammate Ferro who powered through the next four kilometers.
Heading into the final stretch of the race, Ferro motivated All-American freshman Nico Young to turn on the jets and ultimately cross the line first for the ‘Jacks, and fourth overall with a sub-30 10K time of 29:58.3 in his first ever NCAA National Championship event.
“We knew that was going to be strong in the front, three of those guys have a bunch of national experience, but Nico has never been in a situation like this and so I think the affirmation of running with teammates was really helpful,” Smith said. “Nico has a bright future in NCAA Cross Country.”
Ferro (30:02.0) and Nur (30:05.3) completed the race side by side, with just over two seconds separating their sixth and seventh place finishes respectively, while Grijalva (30:10.2) rounded out the All-American honor list for the NAU men, finishing ninth overall.
The Lumberjack men’s stacked roster was on display for all to see today in Stillwater as final scorer sophomore Brodey Hasty (30:50.9) fought to the finish and placed 44th to secure NAU’s victory.
Who Finished Behind National Champions?
Finishing behind NAU was Notre Dame with 87 points. Oklahoma State ended the day in third-place overall scoring 142 points. Meanwhile, Arkansas and Stanford capped the top-five scoring 181 and 194 sequentially.
Despite the challenges collegiate cross country has faced this season, and NAU’s runner-up finish at the NCAA’s last year, the NAU men have surpassed both physical and mental obstacles to return to the top and earn their fourth national title.
“I feel so proud to carry on the great legacy here at NAU of coaches before me, and coaches after me,” Smith added. “I just want to do my part to lead this program and carry on the tradition that’s been set.”
Good Showing From NAU Women
As for the women of NAU, they have determination and success written all over them.
After starting the season ranked No. 26 in the NCAA Division I USTFCCCA Poll the Lumberjack women pushed their way into the top-10 and were ranked No. 9 entering today’s race.
In the end, the reigning Big Sky Champions placed 11th overall today, improving their previous placement of 14th at last year’s national meet.
“Two years ago, we hadn’t been to this meet in a decade, then 14th last year, and 11th this year; we’re moving the needle at NAU women’s cross country,” Smith said.
Junior Jessa Hanson bolted out of the gate, leading the Lumberjack women for a short while before All-American junior Taryn O’Neill took the driver’s seat. From the two-kilometer mark on, O’Neill led the NAU women to the finish line where she placed sixth overall with a time of 23:20.3.
O’Neill is now the fifth runner in conference history to place in the top-six, as it was the best individual finish in 16 years for a Big Sky women’s runner.
“Taryn is a leader, and it shows in her level of commitment. She’s someone who takes chances and is excited about what she’s doing,” Smith said. “She’s a special athlete.”
NAU had four women place within the top-100, including senior Delaney Rasmussen (21:01.8) finishing second for the ‘Jacks in 44th place, Hanson (21:22.6) behind her in 79th and junior Bryn Morley (21:28.6) coming in 93rd.
“They ran much of that race in the top five or six slots and we just didn’t quite finish it today but we’re about a year away from holding those positions we saw early in the race”, Smith said.
Sophomore Jesselyn Bries (22:04.2) rounded out the Lumberjacks scoring runners recording a placement of 171st and completing a team total of 318 points to seal an 11th place finish.
The Lumberjack women have their sights on success and are a force to be reckoned with. Their combination of forward momentum and team mentality is dangerous for anyone else sharing the field.
“It’s not just about the men here, we have a special group of athletes that are really making their mark in the history of NAU women’s cross country,” Smith added. We’ll be right back at it this fall and we’re going to keep getting better.”