RIVERTON, Utah — The Thunderbird men’s cross country team claimed their second-ever Big Sky Conference Championship on Saturday afternoon at Riverdale Golf Course, as they pulled a stunning upset of the No. 2 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at the Big Sky Winter Cross Country Championships.
“Isn’t this crazy, it’s insane,” SUU head coach Eric Houle said. “Those guys took off. Stefen got 50 meters ahead of everybody, which forced the pace and forced the race to be an honest race. And when two of NAU’s top guys caught him, he didn’t collapse, and almost got back in front, so he really did a great job pacing the race. I was just hoping to secure a national berth by beating Weber and finishing second, didn’t expect to win the dang thing, but we’ll take it.”
As a team the Thunderbirds scored just 35 points, edging out the No. 2 ranked Lumberjacks, who scored 38. In a championship that was in question since last fall, Houle said the team relished every second of the opportunity to compete on Saturday.
“We had to calm them down, they were going crazy celebrating, but they’ve been so confident,” Houle said. “We didn’t want to set expectations through the roof only to maybe have some difficulties, and from that positive things happen, we saw that today.”
Stefen Rasmuson was the top finisher for the Thunderbirds, taking third with a time of 24:00.0 on the 8K course.
Aidan Reed was the second Thunderbird to cross the line, finishing in fifth place with a time of 24:07.7. He was immediately followed by Nate Osterstock, who finished in sixth place with a 24:08.5. Finishing 10th was Christian Ricketts, who crossed the line with a mark of 24:27.4. SUU’s top four finishers all earned All-Conference honors.
Santiago Gaitan, who was named Big Sky Freshman of the Year following the meet, finished in 13th with a time of 24:35.6.
This result will likely push the Thunderbirds to a bid at the 2021 NCAA XC National Championships. The announcement for the NCAA Nationals field will be made on March 7.
“I think if they run like they did today, I think we’re a top-10 team in the country,” Houle said. “That’s where I believe we are, and no matter what happens, the fact that we’re among that group is an accomplishment in itself.”
On the women’s side, Alison Pray had a fantastic day finishing in third place. She ran the 5K course in 17:19.7 to earn the bronze. Pray earned All-Conference honors with her performance.
“She was great, she’s been so solid all year,” Houle said. “I was really proud of our ladies. They came out in tough conditions and fought, and that’s all we can ask of them.”
Haley Tanne was second for SUU, finishing in 15th place with a 18:10.7. Julieta Navarrete-Lamas was third for the Thunderbirds and 20th overall with a 18:22.8. Madison Fruchey (18:24.6) and Raquel Chavez (18:50.5) rounded out the top-five for the Thunderbirds by finishing in 22nd and 35th respectively.
The women’s team finished in fourth place with 93 points. Northern Arizona was able to defend their Big Sky crown with a score of 27.
Story and Photography by: SUU Athletics Strategic Communication