Northern Arizona's cross country program took the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course by storm this weekend at the John McNichols Invitational in Terre Haute, Indiana. The men, ranked No. 1 in the country, placed four runners in the top six of Saturday's meet for a victory, while the Lumberjacks on the women's made a statement with a fifth-place team finish.
Both the men's 8K race and women's 5K race were filled with top-25 teams from across the country.
The men's squad won on a low score of 31 points, with No. 7 Standford coming in as the runner-up at 51 points. Fifth-ranked Iowa State took third. Luis Grijalva finished in third place overall for the Lumberjacks with a time of 23:58.6, as Iowa State's Edwin Kurgat took first in 23:47.3 and Stanford's Thomas Ratcliffe was second in 23:51.0.
Theo Quax crossed the finish line with a time of 24:03.1 to earn the fourth-place spot for Northern Arizona, and almost immediately behind him were teammates Abdihamid Nur in fifth and Brodey Hasty in sixth.
"I loved running with my boys," Nur said. "We have a long way to go, but it felt really good to get back out there against this kind of competition and I had a lot of fun."
Northern Arizona's Ryan Raff rounded out the scoring for the Lumberjacks, coming in 13th in 24:26.1.
"I was pleased to see some of our question marks on the men's side answered," said Michael Smith, director of cross country and track and field at Northern Arizona. "The talent and training is there, but we needed real situations. Abdihamid racing in his first national competition, Theo Quax and Brodey Hasty we knew all three were capable of the performances that they had. Luis is in some pretty heavy training right now and he was very patient in his race. Ryan also had another really gutsy race. All of our guys are going to be a lot better in a month and I was really happy with their performances."
The Northern Arizona women's crew scored 112 points.
"A day like today for our women doesn't just happen overnight," Smith said. "It's important that we normalize this environment, being in starting lines like this that have us competing against the best teams in the country. It starts with believing we belong here. We want to feel that way before we head into championship season and we definitely started there today."
Taryn O'Neill, a recent transfer from Villanova, raced for the first time this weekend and lived up to the hype surrounding her arrival in Flagstaff this fall. O'Neill would finish first for the Lumberjack women at 13th with a time of 17:08.4.
Mikayla Malaspina finished in 15th place at 17:13.1, clinching crucial points for her team. Miranda Myers took 26th, Pipi Eitel was 27th and Hannah Behunin rounded out the scoring for Northern Arizona with a 37th-place result at 17:43.0.
Despite career-high blocking performances by freshman Neche Newton and junior Heaven Harris, Northern Arizona could not reject one final rally by Liberty in their Gators Invitational finale. The Lady Flames staved off two Lumberjacks match points to earn a 15-25, 25-20, 25-21, 12-25, 17-15 victory Saturday morning.
As a result, Northern Arizona will carry a 7-5 record into the start of Big Sky Conference play Thursday at home versus Weber State. Three of Northern Arizona's five nonconference losses came in five sets.
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Newton, making just her second career start, notched 11 blocks as part of a 17-block barrage by the Lumberjacks. Her 11 blocks were the most by a freshman since senior Abby Akin posted the same amount in her first season. All 11 of Newton's blocks were assisted, as she became the sixth player in program history to total 11 block assists in a match.
Harris, who was named to her fourth all-tournament team of the fall, teamed with Newton for six of her career-high nine blocks. She narrowly missed her career double-double as Harris added 15 kills on .419 hitting. Harris was particularly scorching in the fourth set where she tallied seven kills on nine swings.
Northern Arizona also received five blocks each from Akin and sophomore Ryann Davis, with the latter tying her career high. Still, although Northern Arizona posted a 17-9 blocks advantage, Liberty tallied eight more kills than Northern Arizona and had 26 more attempts.
The Lumberjacks ripped off five aces, three coming from Akin, during a 13-5 start to the match. Behind tough service pressure and three blocks each by Newton and Harris from the get-go, Northern Arizona claimed the opening set.
Northern Arizona's five first-set aces was part of a season-best 12-ace output. Akin's season-high four aces led six different Lumberjacks, with Aubrea Bandfield matching a season-best with three.
Liberty used two critical 4-0 runs in the second and third sets to move ahead in the match, 2-1. Both teams traded runs early in the third set, but Liberty's 4-0 run to snap a 9-9 tie was the difference. Down six, Northern Arizona put together a late rally to climb back to 22-20 following an ace by senior Abby Stomp, but the Lumberjacks could not climb out of the hole completely.
Northern Arizona finished the fourth set with the final four points and promptly came out with a 4-1 run to start the fifth set. The Lumberjacks maintained control and led 13-10 before the Lady Flames knotted up the score at 13-13. Harris gave Northern Arizona its first match point with a kill and Akin put the Lumberjacks up 15-14 with a second opportunity to close out the win. However, Liberty sealed up the rally with three straight points -- and seven of the last nine in all.
Akin paced the Lumberjacks' offense with 16 kills on .560 hitting. Taylor Jacobsen notched 11 kills and 10 digs. Jasmine West led Northern Arizona with 28 digs.
The Lumberjacks will host Weber State in a matchup between the top two teams in the Big Sky Preseason Poll in the conference opener at Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center.
The Lumberjacks had a successful first day at the Wildcat Invitational Friday. Chris Steele and Alex Groves won in their doubles match playing against San Diego State. David Nguyen and Mikael Purne won, too, in matches against Grand Canyon and Northern Colorado.
Eban Straker-Mead and Facundo Tumosa were the only ones to fall in the doubles matches in a close game of 7-6 for the Lumberjacks. Straker-Mead won in both of his singles matches.
Steele, Groves and Tumosa all lost their first matches, but recovered and got the win in their second ones. Purne won in his only singles match.
Dillon Tripp lost his only singles game in three sets. Nguyen lost in both of his singles matches.