It’s nothing unusual for Flagstaff to have a stellar year in running, but it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to say that this year was on an entirely new level -- a championship level, to be exact.
The dominating repeat NCAA national cross country championship by the Northern Arizona University men was the most notable. A national title is nothing to take for granted in any year. To go undefeated and lead in the polls from start to finish against schools with reputations as pronounced as Colorado, Oregon, Syracuse, and Stanford is worth shouting out to anyone who will listen.
If NAU doesn’t leverage the achievement for promotional purposes — the quality of their student-athletes, the seamless transition in handling the coaching change from Eric Heins to national coach of the year Mike Smith, the outdoor and physically active mentality in Flagstaff, the star-studded trails and roads that the team runs on, the community support — then the athletics department is missing a golden opportunity. Here’s hoping that new athletics director Mike Marlow understands what an ideal situation he’s walking into.
But the highlight reel certainly doesn’t end with the Lumberjacks. Other top stories, in no particular order.
* Sara Wagner became the USA Track and Field women’s masters mountain runner of the year after winning her division and placing sixth overall at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in Pruske, Slovakia, in September. She also won her division and placed 10th overall at the US Mountain Running Championships held at the Cranmore Mountain Race in North Conway, N.H., in June.
* The power couple of the trails, Ian Torrence and Emily Harrison, married this summer in an event that brought out a veritable who’s who in ultrarunning.
* The Flagstaff High boys and girls both accomplished a three-peat in state cross country titles.
* As impressive as that is, one could arguably say Northland Preparatory Academy had the better state meet. The NPA boys and girls also combined for dual wins, led by NIKE national qualifier Maya Smith’s fourth individual state girls win, and the Spartan boys knocking off Hopi, which had won 27 consecutive state championships.
* The Coconino girls placed second at state for the second consecutive year.
* Speaking of combo performances, NAU graduate student David Sinclair and Katie McGee became the third Flagstaff male-female sweep in the past seven years at the Imogene Pass Run, which again was inundated with Flagstaff, which had 12 percent of the total finishers.
* Speaking again of combo performances, Emily Torrence won the JFK 50 for the second time. (You can ask her which of the two items on this list involving her was the bigger deal.) Flag newcomer Eric Senseman was the men’s JFK winner with the ninth-fastest time in that race’s illustrious history.
* Sinclair also crushed the Soulstice record in 1:07.02, and, farther from home, placed 13th at the US Marathon Championships in Sacramento in 2:16.17. He was the second Flagstaff finisher, as TRF Pro Kiya Dandena placed third in a US Olympic Trials-qualifying 2:12.56.
* Speaking of Soulstice, the October tradition raised more than 16,000 dollars for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff.
* The Downtown Mile, sponsored by Team Run Flagstaff, became the seventh race in the Flagstaff Summer Run Series, leading to a record showing at the pre-parade Fourth of July tradition.
* Team ROAM placed third in the girls division and 12th in the boys division at the National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, Fla.
* Michelle Wesson and Chris Gomez took the Summer Run Series individual titles.
* Tim Frericks was victorious at The North Face 50 and broke Rob Krar’s Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim record.
* New Kahtoola ambassador Mike Popejoy placed second at the North American Mountain Running Championships and was overall winner at TransRockies.
* HOKA Northern Arizona Elite posted one high mark after another. On the short list of accomplishments are: Scott Smith’s 2:12.21 in Frankfurt was the fourth best US marathon of the year; Kellyn Taylor was third at the USATF Cross Country Championships; Marty Hehir managed the team’s first sub-13:30 5K in a consistently outstanding 2017; Scott Fauble’s 2:12.35 marathon debut was the 12th fastest US debut ever; Stephanie Bruce was 10th at the New York City Marathon and placed 22nd at the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda — her husband Ben earned a spot at the USA Track and Field Championships for the 15th consecutive year.
* High Country Running completed 53 weeks of columns, with 24 writers contributing to it. Make sure you are one in 2018.
I surely missed some other highlights. Let me know. In the meantime, have a happy, healthy and Flag-Active new year.