As they ran through the snow, facing off against the best in the country, the Northern Arizona University cross country runners weren’t running with themselves in mind. Their minds were on the team. They were running for each other.
And they came through. Led by senior Tyler Day, the Lumberjacks won their third consecutive title in the NCAA Division I National Championships Nov. 17 at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Every inch of this championship win was earned by these young men,” said Michael Smith, director of cross country and track & field. “I am proud to be by their side in this moment. We do not often speak of the pressure of expectation, but the truth is the higher the bar, the finer our margin of error. This was the most challenging championship to secure and required selfless execution. They knew what to do.”
NAU scored a total of 83 points as a team to take the top spot. In second place was Brigham Young University, which scored 116 points. Portland ended the day in third place, scoring 160 points. Colorado and Stanford rounded out the top five, scoring 178 and 201 points respectively.
Day, who came in sixth place, finished in 29:12.9. He was followed by senior Matt Baxter (15th); sophomore Luis Grijalva (23rd, 29:44.3); sophomore Blaise Ferro (26th, 29:50.8); sophomore Peter Lomong (29th, 29:52.3); junior Geordie Beamish (39th, 29:58.4) and freshman Ryan Raff (151st, 31:03.0).
“I am proud of my performance,” Day said. “I gave it my all, and I cannot think of a better way to end the season. The guys we have in this program are some of the best runners I know, so I am pumped to see what they can achieve in the future.”
As two-time champions, the ‘Jacks went into the race facing a lot of pressure. The elusive three-peat has not been done since the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Arkansas squads. NAU also became the first non-power five school since the 1978-1981 UTEP teams to win at least three straight national championships.
But they held on. The Lumberjack men came into the race prepared and executed the race plan envisioned for them, despite the obstacles of weather and a deeper field than they had seen all season.
“Being a coach of a championship team is a byproduct of being a coach of young men filled with talent, grit and heart,” assistant coach Becca DeLoache said. “These men have established a culture that is practiced and displayed every single day. I feel honored that I get to witness the way these guys do things and I am blessed to be a part of their journey.”
Lomong, Ferro, Grijalva, Baxter and Day each earned a spot on this season’s All-American team with Beamish. Six of the seven runners in the event for the team out of Flagstaff were honored, with three of them set to return in the 2019 season. Smith said Raff will be someone to keep an eye on moving forward into the indoor and outdoor track & field season, as well as next year in cross country.
“The success of NAU cross country is not possible without an impeccable support staff and our Flagstaff community,” he said. “We come from the best place to train on Earth and run on the support of our community. And it is important that we realize this is not possible without the coaches and athletes that have come before us at NAU Track and Cross Country’s history. They have laid the foundation for our success. To those that came before us, you are with us every minute of this day and this championship is yours as well. We promise to keep representing our tradition at the highest standard.”