NAU, UA cross country teams moving up nat’l rankings

The latest college cross country rankings are out, and there are some familiar teams in the top 10.

The University of Arizona women’s team shot up the rankings, going from No. 24 in the previous poll to No. 9 in the new Coaches’ Poll released by the USTFCCCA yesterday.

And the Northern Arizona University men’s team is now sitting at No. 7 after a strong showing at the Stanford Invitational Saturday.

NAU’s much-publicized senior, David McNeill, used the 37th Stanford Invitational as his debut for the 2010 season, outrunning a field of some of the country’s best college distance runners to finish a full four seconds ahead of the field for yet another title.

It was the fifth individual cross country title for the Australian, who covered the 8,000-meter course in 23:18.

A couple of local high school grads also placed well, to help McNeill carry the Lumberjacks to a third-place finish behind Stanford, the No. 1 team in the country, and No. 15 Arkansas.  The women’s team finished in 17th place in their race, their first of the season, which was run as a 6k.

Senior Jason Pederson came in 19th with a time of 24:15, followed by Andrew Belus (24:23) in 23rd and Tim Freriks (24:47) in 45th.

Belus is a junior out of Seton Catholic HS in Phoenix, who broke the school records for both the 5k and 2-mile events before heading to Flagstaff.  Freriks is a sophomore who ran for Mingus Union HS in Cottonwood, just down the road from Flag.  He holds the record at Mingus for the 3,200-meter run.

The meteoric rise in the rankings for the Wildcat women was a result of their impressive win at the annual Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota.  Entering the prestigious event ranked No. 24, they climbed over four teams who were ranked ahead of them, including No. 7 Duke University, to claim their first-ever win at the Griak.

As UA head coach, James Li, said after the event, “This was a very significant win.”

The Wildcats placed five runners in the top 25, the only school to accomplish that.  Leading the charge over the 6,000-meter course was sophomore, Jennifer Bergman, who clocked in at 21:24 to finish in 11th place.

Right behind her was a runner familiar to Flagstaff cross country fans.  Hannah Moen, who ran her high school career at Coconino HS in Flag, finished 12th in a time of 21:26.

Moen was the 2007 Arizona Daily Sun selection for All-City Runner of the Year and the 2008 All-City Track & Field Athlete of the Year.  Her junior year at NAU is off to a great start; she won the Dave Murray Invitational last weekend, hosted by the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The Cats coasted to the team title, finishing with 76 points, 26 points ahead of second-place New Mexico, which came out ranked No. 12 in the country this week.

In addition to its lofty national ranking, the UofA women’s team also moved up in this week’s regional rankings, moving past Stanford and into third place.

Both UofA and NAU are pointing toward the NCAA Pre-National Meet Oct. 16 in Terre Haute, Ind.  But before that, they are both scheduled to take part in this weekend’s ASU Invitational in Tempe.

(McNeill photo: NAU Athletics)