Putting Northern Arizona’s Lengthy Reign Into Perspective

Editor’s Note: Since the article came out, Northern Arizona won its third consecutive team title and extended its streak to 22 consecutive weeks.

Dating back to 1998, there are only four teams that have graced the top of the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls for longer than 15 consecutive weeks.

Can you name them?

We’ll give you a hint: Northern Arizona, the top-ranked men’s program in the most recent Men’s National Coaches’ Poll is one of them.

Here are the others, in sequential order: Colorado’s men from 2014 to 2016, Oregon’s men from 2007 to 2009 and Stanford’s women from 2006 to 2008.

Making Themselves At Home On Top

NOTE: Here are the five longest reigns atop each of the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls since 1998 (Historical Data: Men’s Poll | Women’s Poll)
NCAA DI Men’s Poll
NCAA DI Women’s Poll
Northern Arizona
18 Weeks
16 Weeks
17 Weeks
14 Weeks
16 Weeks
14 Weeks
Stanford (x2)
14 Weeks
11 Weeks
12 Weeks
11 Weeks

That’s where NAU draws the line in the sand – at least when it comes to the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls. Following their dominant performance at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational two weeks ago – where they put four runners in the top-10 and scored the fourth fewest points in meet history – the Lumberjacks became the longest-reigning NCAA DI No. 1 team in the past 20 years with their 18th consecutive trip to the top of the mountain (While the National Coaches’ Poll has been in existence for more than 30 years, the USTFCCCA doesn’t have data prior to 1998).

The previous high-water mark, regardless of gender, belonged to the Men of Oregon. The Ducks were voted the top team in the nation 17 weeks in a row between 2007 and 2009. Oregon took over the No. 1 spot after it won the 2007 Bill Dellinger Invitational against six teams that would eventually qualify for the NCAA Championships that same year, including three that finished in the top-10 – Wisconsin (fifth), Alabama (sixth) and UTEP (10th). The Ducks’ flight ended at the same place it began – the Bill Dellinger Invitational – when they finished runner-up at the meet to Alabama in 2009.

Both of the streaks for the Buffs and the Cardinal lasted 16 weeks from 2014 to 2016 and 2006 to 2008, respectively. Colorado snatched the No. 1 spot in the 2014 preseason after winning the NCAA title the previous year and saw a dynasty slip between its fingers at NCAAs in 2015 when it finished runner-up to Syracuse (The Buffs would be ranked fifth to begin the 2016 season). Stanford’s women earned the top spot in their gender’s poll in the 2006 preseason after an NCAA title of its own in 2005 and were struck down to begin the 2008 season after graduation depleted a roster that had captured two more national titles in a row (The Cardinal was ranked fourth in the 2008 preseason).

Expand the scope to include the NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III National Coaches’ Polls and you’ll see that NAU has a bit of work to do to catch up.

Grand Valley State headlined the NCAA DII Women’s National Coaches’ Poll for 19 consecutive weeks between 2013 and 2015. The Lakers won back-to-back national titles in 2013 and 2014 to help propel themselves to those heights.

Twenty-four weeks in a row is what North Central (Ill.) did from 2010 to 2012. The Cardinals, who have been coached by Al Carius since 1966, are a juggernaut at the NCAA DIII level for a reason and have been the top team in the NCAA DIII Men’s National Coaches’ Poll a staggering 64 times this decade alone.

Then you have Johns Hopkins and its otherworldly streak in the NCAA DIII Women’s National Coaches’ Poll. The Blue Jays, who have won five national titles in the past six years, were No. 1 for 27 weeks in a row between 2013 and 2015.

Let’s put those streaks into perspective. For the Lumberjacks to match…

  • Grand Valley State: They would need to win the Pre-National Invitational this weekend in convincing fashion, which is no small feat considering there will be nine other teams competing in the Cardinal Race that were ranked in Week 4, including seven in the top-15 (No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 5 Stanford also headline, while No. 2 BYU and No. 4 Portland are in the White Race).
  • North Central (Ill.): They would need to stay No. 1 through Week 2 of next season, which would mean NAU would have done something no NCAA DI men’s team had done since Arkansas in 1998, 1999 and 2000, which is win three consecutive national titles.
  • Johns Hopkins: They would need to stay No. 1 until the final poll before the 2019 NCAA DI Championships, which would put them in position to do something only three programs in NCAA DI history have done, which is win four consecutive national titles (UTEP’s men from 1978 to 1981, Villanova’s women from 1989 to 1994, Arkansas’ men from 1990 to 1993).

Is NAU up to the task? Well, the Lumberjacks have chopped down every challenge put in front of them since they took over the No. 1 spot in Week 3 of 2016 – but past success does not predict future results. NAU must continue to prove themselves week in and week out and the next chance to do so is this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin.

NOTE: We will not have NCAA Division I National Coaches’ Polls this week. The next NCAA DI National Coaches’ Polls will come out next Tuesday, October 16, following what promises to be an action-packed weekend.