Opening Meet

NAU distance runner Matt McElroy practices at the Lumberjack Stadium in preparation for the season opening meet today. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

The past year has been a pretty successful one for Northern Arizona’s Matt McElroy. Originally a transfer from Oklahoma State, McElroy has put together a pretty impressive career in a short time.

A Big Sky Championship in the fall, titles in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs at the indoor championships and another gold in the 10,000-meter on his home track in the outdoor championships highlighted the past season for the senior.

After all that, McElroy spent part of his summer training in Colorado, though not as just a runner. McElroy has eyes on a professional triathlon career. The first step to such a profession came at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Selected as one of eight athletes to train at the center, McElroy was picked based on his stellar running career and a time trial he swam.

“I just learned all the skills of triathlon training,” McElroy said of the camp. “Kind of lived the life of a pro triathlete. Swimming two hours every morning, biking another two hours and then running an hour in the afternoon.”

While there, McElroy spent some time around three-time Olympian Hunter Kemper, who competed in the the triathlon in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 games, and other athletes from around the country who are the best in his age group.

The desire to make competing a profession is a serious one for McElroy, with the camp in Colorado his first step towards earning a professional affiliation. He said the groups that are out there will pay for housing, travel, gear and really anything else needed to develop its members to the best of their abilities.

“It’s a way to get you set up to go pro for these groups, so they fully fund you as a professional, as a full-time job,” McElroy said.

McElroy made it clear that the camp had been a step in the right direction and he simply needed to continue building on the career he has produced so far for the Lumberjacks.

“For me, I just have to do everything right, it seems like,” he said. “Perform the way I want to perform in track and cross country, keep swimming every day, and there should be no problem with potentially going pro in the sport.”

That confidence in his own career aspirations has carried over into the preparation for Northern Arizona’s cross country season. While he wasn’t necessarily running as much as he does during the cross country season, McElroy said he came back and immediately had little problem putting up a 70-mile week thanks to the overall condition he is in from his triathlon training.

Ranked second in the nation behind defending champion Colorado, McElroy and the Lumberjacks are out for revenge following their runner-up finish to the Buffaloes at the National Championship meet in Indiana last November.

Alongside McElroy, who took 25th at the finals last year, is Futsum Zienasellassie and his fourth overall at the national meet after missing the Big Sky Championships. Nathan Weitz, Caleb Hoover and Andy Trouard all return from Northern Arizona’s seven-man team that competed in Terre Haute, Ind.  

The Lumberjacks also added Tyler Byrne from Louisville and Cory Gines from Michigan, while still having Korey Krotzer, who transferred in from Oklahoma State a year ago. While the team lost Brian Shrader and his 28th-place finish at the finals last year, Byrne finished right behind him in 29th.

“Colorado is really good and they return everyone, but we are known for showing up on the day,” McElroy said. “I would call it NAU magic. It’s a sort of thing where we don’t necessarily show up all year at these lower caliber meets, but we do show up on Nov. 22 at the national meet.”

Northern Arizona opens its season and pursuit of a national title today in its own George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park. The women will run their three miles at 1:30 p.m. and the men will start their 8K at 2:15 p.m.

“Coming up short from last year, I think everyone is hungry,” McElroy said. “Every single kid on the team wants to win a national championship. That’s our goal. We are not going to go out there and run for second.”

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