History repeated itself as Justyn Knight kicked down his competitors for the individual crown in 23:38.5, solidifying the Syracuse runner's status as a two-time Wisconsin Invitational champion. Behind Knight and Fisher, Northern Arizona was well-represented by Andy Trouard (third), Tyler Day (fourth), and Matt Baxter (fifth) who led the Lumberjacks to a dominant team victory in Madison.
Knight's performance marked his season debut after competing for Canada at the IAAF World Championships in London, where he placed ninth in the 5K final. Competing at the championship in August gave Knight a delayed start to cross country training, but the Syracuse All-American was still unleashed his signature kick for the victory. After the win, Knight gave full credit to his coach Chris Fox.
"He's going to make sure that I'm ready to go," Knight said, referring to Fox's training which will help prepare him for a peak at the NCAA cross country championships in November.
In order to break the finish line tape, Knight had to kick down Grant Fisher, the NCAA outdoor 5K champion from Stanford and a consistent rival of Knight on the national stage.
"I've always respected Grant," Knight said. "He's a fantastic racer…I knew that Grant is a guy you can't take your eyes off of."
The individual battle was just a snapshot of the thrilling team competition taking place. No. 1-ranked NAU won the meet with a score of 50 points while Portland followed in second with 123 points, Syracuse claimed third with 151 points, and Stanford finished fourth with a total of 155 points.
From the beginning, the NAU pack's presence was felt up front. In the early stages of the race, the Lumberjacks had six men in the top 15 working together as Southern Utah and Furman attempted to contend alongside the defending NCAA champions.
The individual battle proved to be an exciting back-and-forth exchange between the NAU unit and eventually Robert Brandt of UCLA, who broke the race open just after the 5K mark. Brandt, who recently transferred to UCLA from Cal, continued to press the pace by himself through the 6K mark.
But while Brandt surged ahead, a formidable pack was quickly forming behind him and on the hunt for the top spot. Fisher, Knight, Trouard, Day, and Baxter chased Brandt down and passed him with just over 1K remaining in the race.
By the final turn, the individual title chase was on as all five standouts unleashed their own kicks with the energy that remained.
Knight taking the individual crown helped lead Syracuse to a top-three team finish, a promising performance for the 2015 NCAA championship team.
NAU's winning team score was earned by three top-five finishes from Trouard, Day, and Baxter, and ultimately earned by Geordie Beamish's 17th-place and freshman Luis Grijalva's 21st-place showings.
Behind NAU, Portland executed a breakthrough performance with Jeff Thies (eighth) leading three men to top-11 finishes and all five scorers within the top 54. Heading into the meet, the Pilots were ranked No. 22 in the FloXC rankings, but the squad made a big statement by beating No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 Stanford.