MISSOULA — Last Friday at the Big Sky Conference cross country championships, Missoula native Elise Stearns won her second straight conference title in a dominant performance in her hometown.
It's the latest in what's been a decorated college career at Northern Arizona University for the Missoula Hellgate grad, and after winning the Big Sky title two years in a row, Stearns is quick to credit the team around her.
"It's definitely been a big team thing, my progress has very much followed the rest of the team. We've done so much together, and I've seen a lot of individual success with that of course, too," Stearns said. "Their success also feels like my success. It's just fantastic and we've just seen that uptick in everything."
NAU sports one of the best distance running units in the the country, and right at the top of the heap is Stearns. The Lumberjack women's team won the Big Sky team title for the fifth year in a row.
Last year as a sophomore, she won the Big Sky cross country individual championship and went on to finish fourth overall at the NCAA national meet to lead the Lumberjacks to a sixth-place team finish, their best performance since 1991.
For taking fourth, Stearns became an All-American.
"It took me a few years to get into it for sure, but now that I have great teammates, great coaching behind me, and Flagstaff is one of the best environments for distance running in the world, so I just have all of these resources and just all of the materials to do something great," Stearns said. "It's really exciting."
Stearns would miss the outdoor track and field season this past year with injury, so over the summer she came back home to train, rehab and get back on track.
"I know what it was going to take to get back to here, and I was hoping it would," Stearns said. "This training has just catapulted since the summer, so I've been able to do all of the things I was able to do last season and more, so it's been really exciting to get and jump back into it."
Now a junior, Stearns turns her attention to the NCAA regional and national meets to end the season.
She's proud to represent Missoula and Montana on a national level and hopes to keep building on her successes.
"I didn't have the most successful high school career compared to college, so I had people telling me I'm an example of what you can do with running," Stearns said. "It doesn't end in high school and you can move on from things in Montana or stay in Montana, which I do over the summer, and get some really good training and be committed and stay with it."