Eagles Gear Up for Big Sky Championships in Flagstaff

Jordan Curnutt set to run his first race in the red and white this season

The Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s cross country teams will be heading to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the Big Sky Cross Country Championships Saturday (Oct. 27) hosted by Northern Arizona University at Buffalo Park. The men’s 8,000 will start at 9 a.m. Pacific time, with the women’s 5,000 to follow at 10.

Sitting at 7,000 feet, Northern Arizona is the highest-elevated school in the Big Sky and one of the more difficult environments for distance runners to run in.

“We’re going to handle it as best as we can and run it as we would in any other race,” head coach Chris Zeller said. “I want us to stay aware and respect it, but I don’t want us to fear it.”

In a preseason poll selected by the Big Sky coaches, both Eastern teams were predicted to finish eighth at this year’s Championships, with the men receiving 55 points and the women having 39. Northern Arizona’s men and Weber State’s women were predicted to take the team titles, with each team receiving all 11 first-place votes.

Suiting up for the Eagle men will be freshman David Thor, sophomore Nathan Fall, redshirt sophomore Quin Olivas, freshman Isaac Seward and senior Brandon Nobach. Returning from a knee injury and competing for the Eagles for the first time this season will be redshirt junior and team captain Jordan Curnutt.

“Jordan has been able to run for a few weeks,” said Zeller. “But he hasn’t been doing any workouts so there’s no sure way to tell where he’s at, I know he’ll go out there and give it his best.”

Thor, a freshman phenom who has been the top runner for the Eastern men all season, has placed in the top 25 at every meet this season.

“David and I have been analyzing how some of our better runners in the past have done at conference as freshmen, so he has a perspective on that,” Zeller said. “I mainly just want him to be competitive.”

Women’s competitors include redshirt freshman and team captain Berenice Penaloza, sophomore Danie Moon, senior Jessi Johnson, sophomore Acacia Smith, redshirt sophomore Monica Jaenicke, sophomore Lauren Brewington and freshman Brittney Swanson.

Penaloza has led the way for the Eagle women in every meet this year and cracked the top 20 at three different meets.

“With this being Berenice’s first conference race, getting this experience is huge,” Zeller said. “Both her and David are at a point where they can be competitive as freshman and neither of them seem intimidated.”

Behind Penaloza, Zeller still thinks the next four spots in the top five are up for grabs.

“Anyone of our other runners can step and I’m excited to see who can be the spark in that group,” Zeller said.

Both the men’s and women’s teams finished seventh at last year’s Championships in Pocatello, Idaho. Neither team will have its top runner from that meet as Tonya Turner (22nd) graduated and Simon Sorensen (19th) is redshirting.

“There are definitely a couple of teams on both sides who we can contend with and be successful against,” Zeller said. “I mainly just want to see everyone have their best race of the year.” 


2012 Big Sky Cross Country Preseason Coaches' Poll

 Men's Poll


Points (First-Place Votes)

1. Northern Arizona

121 (11)

2. Weber State


3. Montana State


4. Sacramento State


5. Southern Utah


6. Montana


7. Idaho State


8. Eastern Washington            


9. North Dakota


10. Northern Colorado


11. Portland State


 Women's Poll


Points (First-Place Votes)

1. Weber State

121 (11)

2. Northern Arizona


3. Montana


4. Idaho State


5. Montana State


6. Southern Utah


7. Sacramento State


8. Eastern Washington


9. Northern Colorado


10. North Dakota


11. Portland State


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