VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – Navajo Technical University senior Clifford Andersen Jr. finished 12th at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s national cross country meet, earning second team All American accolades. Andersen’s stellar race contributed to an 11th place finish for the Skyhawks, the highest finish for the team in the last five years.
“They trained hard,” stated NTU’s first year cross country coach Leonard Lee of Shiprock, NM. “The whole point was to have confidence, believe in themselves, and to cross the finish line. They’re coachable, which is what I like. That’s every coach’s dream.”
Leading up to nationals, the team had to buy in to Lee’s running philosophy, which emphasized core strength and foot work. “When I first got here, they didn’t know how to run,” explained Lee. “Every day we built strength and learned how to pace ourselves. I said, ‘You’re either going to let the race go by you or you’re going to train harder. Whatever you do, don’t slow down. Make sure you feel your speed and trust your legs.’”
The training paid off for the Skyhawks team, who had each of their runners’ place in the top 100. Lee saw a growth in the team as the season progressed, and running sprints and hills became easy. Coach Lee’s encouragement helped with the mental aspect of running, especially for Andersen.
“The first day we met, he knew I was an all American,” recalled Andersen, who is Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation. “Coach showed me the right way to run. Everything he taught us, I used it.”
Andersen came on strong toward the end of the season after finishing last year’s national meet in 73rd place. Although he missed the initial meet of the season at Diné College, Andersen made a steady improvement with each week beginning with the Tom Strandt Memorial at Fort Lewis College. He finished 27th overall at the race with a time of 32:00:00 minutes before finishing 11th at the Embry-Riddle Meet in Prescott, AZ with a time of 31:24.00. Things really started to turn for Andersen in October when he won NTU’s home invitational, and then he placed 27th at the Redhawk Classic Invite in Mesa, AZ with a time of 30:24.3.
“The most important thing I learned in this whole process is to believe in myself more,” explained Andersen, who will be graduating in December with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science and natural resources. “[This race] represents all the hard work I put in during the season. If you put in hard work, it will show, and that’s what coach was trying to teach us.”
Iddrisu Osman was the next NTU runner to cross the finish line with a time of 32:16, good for 67th overall. Following Osman was Benveno Yazzie (32:44.23) and Joel Yazzie (32:44.71), each finishing 71st and 72nd respectively. Also contributing to NTU’s team score was Loren Tsosie with a time of 34:26.70.
Shalii White was NTU’s highest finisher in the women’s race with a time of 28:39.82. White battled a knee injury over the past month, but trained smart to finish the race 33rd overall. Freshmen runner Hunter Livingston was also a top 50 runner, placing 50rd overall with a time of 31:55.34. Also clocking in times for NTU included, Christine Clyde (34:10.68), Gianina Chee (37:24.65), and Danielle Morgan (38:48.00).
“Now they know what an All American feels like and what it takes,” Lee stated while looking toward next year. “It doesn’t happen with missing practices, and it doesn’t happen with laziness. It starts with them saying, ‘I want to do this.’ I’m really proud of this season.”
For more information about NTU’s cross country team, contact NTU athletic director George LaFrance at firstname.lastname@example.org.