Northern Arizona University’s men’s cross country team won its fourth national title in five years on Monday.
The women’s team took 11th place overall at the meet in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with both teams placing individual runners in the top 10.
Freshman Nico Young led the men’s team, finishing fourth in the 10K with a time of 29:58.3. Also in the men’s top 10 were senior Blaise Ferro, who finished sixth with a time of 30:02, sophomore Abdihamid Nur, who finished seventh with a time of 30:05.3; and senior Luis Grijalva, who finished ninth with a time of 30:10.2. The team’s 60 points was almost 30 points ahead of runner-up Notre Dame and is 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.
The top four finishers stayed close together for much of the race, switching off who led throughout the 10,000-meter course. Heading into the final stretch of the race, Ferro pushed All-American Young, who surged ahead to his fourth-place finish.
“We knew that they were 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 I think the affirmation of running with teammates was really helpful,” Smith said. “Nico has a bright future in NCAA cross country.”
The Lumberjack men’s stacked roster was on display for all to see in Stillwater as
final scorer sophomore Brodey Hasty (30:50.9) fought to the finish and placed 44th to secure NAU’s victory. Junior Ryan Raff and sophomore Drew Bosley rounded out the national championship team.
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 said. “I just want to do my part to lead this program and carry on the tradition that’s been set.”
The women’s team also bested their performance last year. 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 the race.
Junior All-American runner Taryn O’Neill led the women’s team, finishing in sixth place with a 6K time of 20:23.3. O’Neill is the fifth runner in conference history to place in the top six and had 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, who are the reigning Big Sky Champions, had four women place within the top 100, including senior Delaney Rasmussen (21:01.8) finishing second for the Jacks in 44th place, junior Jessa Hanson (21:22.6) in 79th and junior Bryn Morley (21:28.6) coming in 93rd. 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. Senior Pipi Eitel and sophomore Annika Reiss also competed for the Lumberjacks.
“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. “We have a special group of athletes that are really making their mark in the history of NAU women’s cross country. We’ll be right back at it this fall and we’re going to keep getting better.”