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Luis Grijalva at NCAA Championships

Luis Grijalva competes in the 1500-meter race at the NCAA outdoor championships in 2018.

If Luis Grijalva has the big breakout race that his head coach thinks is in the runner's future, he hopes it comes today in the 5,000-meter outdoor national championship.

A year ago Grijalva made it to the NCAA outdoor title race in the 1500m for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, taking 17th place in 3:39.85. He has experience with big races now and has produced stellar times throughout 2019. 

He was also on the Northern Arizona cross country team in that won its third straight national title in the sport in November.   

“At the point he walked into the program, we were up and running," said Michael Smith, director of cross country and track and field at Northern Arizona. "We had won that national championship and went on to win a second, and it was just a great time to come in and learn from some of those veterans. So he’s at a launching point, ready for his next thing and to make a big statement.”

Grijalva's Lumberjacks career is still fairly young, and he's still out logging the much-needed miles of competition it takes to win at the highest level.

“At this level you have to get some experience," Smith said of his junior.

Today's 5K NCAA title race in Austin, Texas, could end up being the litmus test that shows just how far Grijalva has come. The race is set for a 7:25 p.m. start, and three other Lumberjacks are in it with him.

Grijalva registered his 5000m PR this outdoor season along with a personal best in the 1500m. The 5000m PR of 13:37.11 came at the speedy Payton Jordan Invitational in early May.

Geordie Beamish, who will join Grijalva as a teammate in the national championship 5K race, took 17th place at Payton Jordan, both racing in the section one race. Grijalva finished a close 19th.

Crossing the line near them were a pair of BYU runners the Lumberjacks will see today when they toe the start line. BYU's Connor Mantz claimed 16th place at Payton Jordan, while teammate Clayton Young went 18th.

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Grijalva is one of 13 runners in today's 5K with a sub-13:40 PR of the 24-man field. Mantz (13:29.73) and Young (13:31.79) are among them, as is Beamish, Grant Fisher of Stanford and Morgan McDonald of Wisconsin.

Smith is hoping the power-in-numbers formula works for his athletes, who he would love to see all finish in the top 10.

“There is something about the affirmation and the positioning of the race when the moves start to be made, and you can look and see a teammate," Smith said. 

It's the key to the cross country success, the celebrated coach added. 

“That’s good team running and it really plays to our strength,” Smith said.

Grijalva is seen as the strength of the future of the distance programs at Northern Arizona, especially now that Tyler Day used up his cross country eligibility and star Matt Baxter has graduated and joined NAZ Elite, which is based out of Flagstaff.

“He’s really in position to be the face of what we have going on in the next couple years here," Smith said. "So I think this meet, this upcoming week, is important because it’s a stepping stone for him -- kinda make his path to what he wants to do at the national level.”

Grijalva finished in sixth place at the Big Sky Conference outdoor 5000m in 14:59.75. Teammate Tyler Day, who finished sixth in the national 10K on Wednesday, won that race, while Lumberjacks freshman Brody Hasty was third.

Hasty is also in today's 5K.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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