FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (September 4, 2021) – After a shorter off-season than usual, the Northern Arizona cross country teams are back in action, picking up right where they left off, with dominant performances from seniors Ryan Raff and Pipi Eitel sealing men and women’s team victories at the George Kyte Classic.
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“Ryan and Pipi are veterans of the program, they know how to race at altitude and at this park, and I liked just how they raced today,” NAU Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Michael Smith said.
“They’re great leaders for us and it was awesome to see them do their thing and lead the crew.”
The men secured first place with a score of only 15 points, finishing 1-2-4-5-6, while the women’s team crossed the line 1-3-4-5-6, to win with a score of 19 points.
Seniors Aldo Marquez, and Raff, redshirt junior Jack Shea, sophomore Drew Bosley, redshirt sophomore Theo Quax, and freshmen, Jordan Black, Riley Human and George Kusche positioned themselves at the starting gate first, dressed in their gold NAU uniforms.
Stabilizing a conservative pace early, the men formed a pack and positioned themselves towards the front early on, maintaining solid momentum throughout the race.
Ultimately it was Raff sprinting down the final stretch to earn first place in men’s 4.5-mile run, with a time of 22:31.2 with Bosely (22:37.0) and NAU alum, now Hoka One One professional, Matt Baxter (22:41.0) not far behind.
Kusche, the Nebraska transfer, placed fourth with a time of 22:59.3, with Marquez (23:22.4) and Quax (23:34.2) sequentially rounding out the scorers for NAU; Black (23:52.6), Shea (24:24.4), and Human (25:06.2) finished 11th, 18th and 30th overall as well.
With several athletes on the men and women’s teams entering their very first collegiate cross country meet, Smith was pleased with their performances.
“This is always a hard one to start off in, it’s a hot day, you’re racing at altitude, and we don’t taper for it in any way; they train right through it,” Smith explained, “this is hard for even our experienced athletes but for the people that are just opening up and starting off here, it’s this a tough way to begin.”
After the conclusion of the men’s competition, Eitel, senior Jenna McCaffrey, juniors Cassi Land, Abby Riordan, Meagan Van Pelt, and Luna Slater, redshirt sophomores Melanie Loff and Jesselyn Bries, sophomore Elise Stearns, and freshmen Maggi Congdon and Alexis Kebbe awaited the start of the women’s race.
Also settling into a comfortable stride quickly, the Lumberjack women found themselves holding strong and carrying composure throughout the race.
In the end, Eitel earned the individual crown with a time of 15:32.7 in the women’s 2.5 mile while Congdon (15:54.0), Stearns (15:54.0), Kebbe (15:56.6), and Bries (16:00.2) completed the scoring run for the NAU women.
Additionally, Land (16:01.8), Van Pelt (16:05.4), McCaffrey (16:17.5), Slater (16:29.0), Riordan (16:50.6), and Loff (18:24.7) respectively placed eighth, ninth, tenth, 14th, 16th, and 40th overall.
Unfortunately, the George Kyte Classic, a Northern Arizona tradition for more than 40 years, was cancelled last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s return has reigned special for coaches and athletes alike.
“It was fantastic to be back,” Smith exclaimed, “We’ve had a lot of great athletes in our program start their collegiate careers at this meet.”