NAU’s Futsum Zienasellassie, #2 Returner from 2014 NCAA XC Champs, Will Redshirt This Fall

By Jonathan Gault
September 21, 2015

Edward Cheserek‘s path to an unprecedented three-peat at the NCAA Cross Country Championships just got a little easier. Today Northern Arizona University director of track and field and cross country Eric Heins announced that star runner Futsum Zienasellassie, who finished third behind Cheserek and Eric Jenkins at NCAAs last fall, will sit out the 2015 cross country season as a redshirt along with teammate Nathan Weitz.

“On the team right now we have one fifth-year senior and Nathan and Futsum would be fourth-year seniors,” Heins said. “But when you look at our team, we’d be good this year, we’d be good next year or we could be really good next year [by redshirting Nathan and Futsum in 2015]. Looking at it, it was just kind of a no-brainer. Both those guys are going to be in school for five years and it will be great to have those guys back for the team and also get some young guys some experience this year. And then bring them back next year to go for another top-four finish [at NCAAs].”

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The Lumberjacks have finished on the podium at NCAAs each of the past three years but that streak looks set to end in 2015 without Zienasellassie and Weitz (who was 118th in 2014). Heins believes that with those two back in 2016 alongside current sophomore Corey Glines, who was working out with Zienasellassie and fellow All-American Matt McElroy last fall before going down with an injury, NAU will have a formidable squad next year.

Zienasellassie battled Oregons Eric Jenkins at NCAA XC last fall Zienasellassie battled Oregon’s Eric Jenkins at NCAA XC last fall

Both Zienasellassie and Weitz are healthy right now and Heins said his star runner is fit.

“Futsum is running more than he’s ever run, which is a great sign,” Heins said. “He just ran his longest long run of his career (18 miles) on Saturday so things are really going well. We’re going to take advantage of this year and try to build him up with his training throughout the year.”

That extra year of training could make a difference as Zienasellassie attempts to dethrone Cheserek next fall, who could enter 2016 as the three-time defending NCAA XC champion. The two men have been rivals dating back to high school, when Cheserek defeated Zienasellassie by one second to win the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship in 2011. Last year, Cheserek finished six seconds up on Zienasellassie in Terre Haute.

“I think [Futsum] can challenge him,” Heins said. “Edward is a pretty tough challenge but that’s what he’s going to gear up for, for sure. He wants to at least make it as competitive as that Foot Locker finals was when they were a senior and junior in high school [in 2011]. So I think giving Futsum this year to train and figure some things out is going to help him better prepare for Edward.”

Cheserek was already the heavy favorite to win his third straight cross country crown in November; now it’s even harder to envision someone else beating him. With Zienasellassie out of action, the top returner behind Cheserek is Colorado’s Ammar Moussa, who was fifth last year.


Zienasellassie’s accomplishments

  • Three-time XC All-American (3rd in 2014, 4th in 2013, 31st in 2012)
  • Track PBs of 13:49.34 (5,000) and 28:35.76 (10,000)
  • Finished 12th in the 10,000 at 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
  • 2011 Nike Cross Nationals champion
  • Two-time runner-up at Foot Locker Cross Country Championships (2010 and 2011)

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