#1 Northern Arizona Coach Eric Heins: “I am confident in what my guys have done this year.”

“I hate to use the word ‘peak’ but I think we are peaking and running our best when it matters most.”

by LetsRun.com
November 20, 2013

The 2013 NCAA Cross-Country Championships are Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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Today we caught up with Eric Heins – the coach of the #1 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks men’s team – via phone. Heins talked to us from the birthplace of LetsRun.com – the high altitude environment of Flagstaff, AZ . Heins and his NAU team will traveling to Terre Haute tomorrow in search of the program’s first-ever national title.

The Lumberjacks have eight times been on the podium (top 4) but never finished first. Last year, NAU was fourth.

We caught up Heins, who sounded both confident and excited about his team’s prospects on Saturday and not worried about the course conditions.

Here are the highlights of our chat with Heins.

Eric Heins on whether he considers his #1 ranked team to be the favorite for Sunday:

“I think when you look at the rankings, (you see) that it’s just so tight. I hesitate to say we are the favorites, and I know all coaches like to deflect some of that (pressure), but I am confident in what my guys have done this year. And I’m confident that we’ve (historically) been able to show up at the national meet and typically finish higher than what our ranking was coming into it.

We’re healthy, we’re running well and the guys are excited and have really enjoyed the season together, and I think that’s what gives me the most confidence – just how well they’ve handled this whole year, and just being one of the top teams throughout and maintaining a positive attitude.”

Heins talking about how his team is running its best right now (He was responding to us pointing out that only once in 17 years has a team won with less than 100 points at NCAAs and yet his team scored more than 100 points at the adidas Wisconsin meet, which didn’t include every team (of course individuals aren’t removed from that race):

I think Brian (Shrader) wasn’t feeling very good at that point. He was a bit under the weather. Josh Hardin has gotten better every single week, so that really helps us.

I do believe we are on the upswing. I hate to use the word ‘peak’ but I think we are peaking and running our best when it matters most.”

Erik Heins on his team’s early season loss to Oklahoma State:

“It was earlier in the year. We held some guys out. If we had run everyone, I still don’t think we would have won that day but it would have been a little closer.”

Heins on whether the course conditions will impact his team’s strategy:

“I don’t think we’re going to change any sort of strategy. We’ve had the same type of race plan going into every race. We’ve had Futsum Zienasellassie, Matt McElroy and Brian Shrader trying to run together and then a group of four trying to run together. I don’t think we’ll change much.”

Eric Heins (far left) and NAU celebrate last year. 2012 NCAA XC Photos

Heins talking about his team’s narrow (61 to 69) victory over then-#1 Colorado at the Mountain Regional last Friday, which vaulted his team to #1 and Colorado to #3.

“I don’t think any of those top 4 teams were going too hard. Everybody was running a hard tempo type effort. I think the biggest difference was Futsum got excited toward the end and he kicked it in the last 400 while everyone else just kind of maintained where they were at and that made biggest difference.” (Note: Less than 5 seconds separated third from 13th and Futsum was 3rd)

Editor’s note: We also asked Heins about the fact that Futsum Zienasellassie didn’t run their conference meet as we wanted to make sure he wasn’t hurt. He said that Futsum wasn’t dinged up but just wanted to focus on “doing well in school.”

More: More: *Interview with Ok. State Coach Dave Smith
2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships Coverage Page
Vault: 2012 NCAA Cross-Country Coverage