NAU cross-country jump-started their season at home as the Lumberjacks hosted the 39th annual George Kyte Classic. The Sept. 7 race was an opportunity to get a good look at the team’s depth.
Among Saturday’s competitors came some fresh faces from some unexpected origins. Running alongside the Lumberjacks was Tokai University, who arrived from Tokyo, Japan.
As the runners made their way closer to the finish line, NAU sophomore Ryan Raff was the first to emerge, leading the pack as Tokai runner Ryota Natori followed behind by a little more than ten yards. Raff was victorious, crossing the line with a time of 21:52.0 to win the race. Natori crossed at a time of 22:10.7, and fellow Tokai runner Akihiro Gunji took third just five seconds after Natori at 22:15.6.
“It was fun to have some really good competition,” Raff said. “About a quarter to a half-mile in, [Tokai] started going. They definitely came out hard and made it an honest race.”
Following the two Tokai runners were a string of NAU runners. Freshman Drew Bosley came in fourth with a 22:21.0 time, while Abdihamid Nur and Luis Grijalva tied for fifth at 22:26.0. Nur is expected to be a valuable new edition to the program.
“We had good racing upfront,” Michael Smith, NAU men’s cross-country head coach, said. “[Nur’s] debut for [NAU] was fantastic. It was good to see [redshirt freshman Brody Hasty] in uniform, and also we had another [freshman], Drew Bosley, who ran unattached and finished super-high, which is really hard to do for him, coming from sea level — great things upfront overall.”
It was time for the girls to stretch their legs, as the women’s cross-country team stepped toward the starting line for the final race of the afternoon. The women’s team made some pretty crucial moves over the offseason. One move included bringing in sophomore Taryn O’Neill, a Villanova University transfer student who is set to be a game-changer for the women’s team this season.
“We’re seeing the pieces of this team starting to come together,” Smith said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting things together with a little more training.”
For the women’s team, today was a chance to get a better look at the team’s assets. This included redshirt seniors Miranda Myers, who finished third with a time of 15:56.7, and Mikayla Malaspina, who finished fifth at 16:08.1.
Junior runner Pipi Eitel finished first with a 15:36.6 time, while junior Hannah Behunin came in at second with a 15:36.7 time. NAU finished with the top five spots in the women’s race.
It’s right back to the trails for the two teams during a three week training period before they head to Terre Haute, Indiana for the John McNichol’s Invitational race where they face off against Indiana State University, among other schools, for their second meet of the season on Sept. 21.
“It’s taken hard recruiting and a lot of training and commitment, but [the team] is really coming together,” Smith said.