The Grand Canyon University cross country team held its annual party, and this year most of the invitees from Arizona went away happy.
Kipkorir Mutai did a good job representing the host, a D-II school in Phoenix, as the senior from Kenya won the individual title at the GCU Invitational for the second year in a row. That performance also earned him the Runner of the Week award from the Pacific West Conference.
Mutai finished ahead of all the collegiate entrants, including those from Division I schools, and boosted the GCU men’s team to a fourth-place finish.
Arizona State took the men’s team title this year, with second-year runner Steven Schneider leading the way and finishing second among the team competition runners with a time of 25:18.5. Just seconds off Schneider’s finish, freshman teammate Domenic D’Acquisto took third in 25:23.6.
ASU’s team score was 28 points, as the Sun Devils finished in second, third, fifth and sixth. The University of Arizona came in second with 66 points, as the Wildcats placed two in the top 10.
On the women’s side, it was the No. 14-ranked Arizona squad that took this year’s title by finishing five runners in the top six spots. Hanna Henson, the senior from Rio Rico High School in Tucson who was the 4A-II state champion in 2007, took top honors with a winning time of 18.04.7 over the 5K course.
Crossing the finish line right behind Henson were a couple of freshman teammates. Nicci Corbin came in second (18:07.7) and Clea Formaz (18:29.6) took third. Formaz, who is from Switzerland, provides the international flavor to this year’s squad.
The Cats’ winning team score was 17 points, well in front of runner-up Arizona State, which compiled 30 points.
Northern Arizona wasn’t a team winner this year, but the Lumberjacks enjoyed a good showing with the small band of women runners they sent down the mountain to compete. All four runners who made the trip placed in the top 25, with their top finishers in 13th place (Kylee Kieser) and 14th place (Shayla Freeman).
Kieser and Freeman are both local athletes and both freshmen. Kieser ran for Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, where she won the Division II state cross country title her senior year. Freeman is from Greenway High School in Phoenix, where she was a three-time Region Athlete of the Year and three-time All-State selection.
The GCU invitational is used by most of the D-I coaches as an opportunity to evaluate runners who are still trying to move up in the pack and get included in the major events during the year, particularly helpful for the freshmen. NAU sent just four runners, as the team looks ahead to Friday’s Adidas Invitational in Wisconsin, and ASU sent a group to compete for the men that would be considered it’s ‘B’ team.
A good field of 14 teams, including smaller four-year schools and junior colleges, and more than 200 runners provides a competitive environment. But it’s usually the big dogs that win the team titles, just as it played out again over the weekend.