Cross Country teamIt what some consider the biggest Cinderella story in the world of cross country in 2012, the Northern Arizona University men’s team stole a podium spot for the eighth time in school history with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, led by All-American efforts from Brian Shrader, who took 15th, and Futsum Zienasellassie, who came 31st overall.

Rochelle Kanuho, the only NAU woman competing at the championships, narrowly missed All-American status with a 46th-place finish, but ran a remarkably solid race in her final collegiate cross country event.

The Lumberjack men, ranked No. 18 in national polls for the majority of the season, effectively silenced their critics with the team performance and reminded the nation to never count them out.

“It’s just phenomenal, because all year long this team has been such a great team in every sense of the word, and to see them come through on the day that matters most makes me speechless and just so proud of them,” said Eric Heins, director of Track and Field and Cross Country. “Every weekend throughout the season they just got a little bit better, and in the championship race they trusted each other and they ran a perfect race to bring home the trophy.”

The Lumberjacks put together solid performances in the last half of races all year long, but it was the signature move in the season’s toughest test that proved fatal for all the teams that outranked them heading in.

“They ran beautifully,” Heins added. “Every single one of them passed people coming home the last 600 meters, which is what you need to do to finish strong.”

Perhaps the most intriguing and exciting aspect of the day for the Lumberjacks, after all the medals and trophies had been handed out, is the recognition that each one of these runners will return next year, prepped and more ready than ever before to continue building the rich tradition of the Northern Arizona cross country program.