Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.
#2 Northern Arizona
Head Coach: Eric Heins (7th Season)
Head Coach: Eric Heins (7th Season)
2012 National Finish- 4th
Key Returners from 2012
- Brian Shrader (Sr., 3:43 1500m, 7:59 Open 3k, 14:15 5k, 15th NCAA XC '12)
- Futsum Zienasellassie (So., 3:46 1500m, 13:50 5k, 31st NCAA XC '12)
- Matt McElroy (Jr., 8:11 Open 3k, 14:08 5k, 66th NCAA XC '12)
- Nathan Weitz (So., 3:44 1500m, 80th NCAA XC '12)
- Caleb Hoover (Jr., 14:05 5k, 8:44 3k Steeple, 75th NCAA XC '12)
- Tim Freriks (Sr., 14:18 5k, 29:31 10k, 94th NCAA XC '11)
- Josh Hardin (Sr., From William and Mary-14:04 5k, 29:29 10k, 140th NCAA XC '10 (Frosh)
- Korey Krotzer (RFr., From Ok. St.- 4:09 1600m, 9:01 3200m)
- Andy Trouard (Fr., 4:08 1600m, 8:51 3200m, 29th NXN '12)
In 2012, Northern Arizona flew under the radar during the majority of the season and loved every minute of it. In the process of being underrated all season long, the Lumberjacks slowly picked up the pace throughout the year. After dominating the Big Sky Conference meet and surprising Colorado and BYU by winning the Mountain Regional, NAU came back from a tough 10k performance in the Regional to get a podium spot as a team in Louisville.
Coach Eric Heins has done an outstanding job recruiting and developing his athletes in his seven years at the helm in Flagstaff. This year he has a great mix of young talent and veteran athletes that make them one of the top programs in the NCAA.
A lot of the success of the Lumberjacks goes with their leader Brian Shrader. Now that Diego Estrada is gone (granted he didn't run xc last year anyway) Shrader needs to step into that role in full force and take this team to a different level. His 15th individual finish in NCAAs last season was a huge step for him and he should be looking at a similar type of performance this season in Terre Haute. Although he was stricken with injuries during the track season this spring, he should be ready to lead NAU this fall.
The athlete that could improve the most from last season to his is Futsum Zienasellassie (thank you copy and paste for that last name). Had Ed Cheserek not been around during his prep days, Futsum could have been Foot Locker champ at least one year (and challenged Verzbicas another). He is still very untapped and proved that on the track this spring where he ran a very solid 13:50 and qualified for NCAA Outdoors (finished 13th). It will be interesting to watch Ches and Futsum go at it again at NCAAs this season and who ends up beating who. Both of those guys are capable of top-25 performances on the right day.
There were not very many freshman that had as good of a year on the track than Nathan Weitz did this most recent outdoor season. For a freshman (that was pretty unheralded) to come right out of high school and make NCAA Outdoors in the 1500m is pretty impressive. Weitz was solid in cross in 2012 where he finished 80th. Look to see a marked improvement in him as well going forward.
Matt McElroy is a wildcard for NAU. His inability to stay healthy on the track and throughout his career has really hindered his progression. A high school stud, (finished runner-up to Verzbicas at Foot Locker in 2009) McElroy's talent did not just fly away, he just needs to actually be healthy and he is a potential All-American.
With those four athletes alone, NAU is scary good and talented. Add in guys like Caleb Hoover, who had a breakout year on the track (8:44 Steepler) and Tim Freriks (experienced xc guy) and the Lumberjacks have some very good options for no. 5-7 runners.
The quality runners do not stop there in Flagstaff, key transfers like Josh Hardin (from William and Mary) and Korey Krotzer (from Oklahoma State--decided to go to Flagstaff instead of Provo instead) will be ready to make in impact from the minute they wear a NAU uniform. Andy Trouard was a very good prep and any kind of help Coach Heins can get from them is just icing on the cake.
What will be difficult for Northern Arizona is making sure they can get out of the Mountain Regional alive with a controlled effort to prepare themselves for NCAAs. But who am I kidding, they looked great at Regionals in 2012 and still ran out of their minds in Louisville. NAU is loaded with talent and more in the wings waiting to step up into the top seven to boot. Along with Colorado, Northern Arizona has a legitimate shot to win an NCAA title if any of the other top programs have a down day and things work out just like they did in 2012 where they surprised the country with their fourth place finish.