The 20-year-old miler and the USATF Marathon Champion add depth to the group out of Flagstaff, Ariz.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., January 11, 2023 – HOKA Northern Arizona Elite announced today that the team has added Cruz Culpepper and Paige Stoner to its roster. Culpepper is a miler with a personal best of 3:57.66 while Stoner is best known as a marathoner, having just won the USATF Championships last month in Sacramento.
Running fans may recognize the Culpepper name. Cruz is the son of NAZ Elite head coach, Alan Culpepper, and his wife, Shayne—both two-time Olympians. The younger Culpepper came tantalizingly close to breaking the four-minute barrier for the mile in high school when he ran 4:00.10 at an indoor meet in February of 2020. The pandemic prevented him from competing outdoors, but he went on to break the mark the very next year as a freshman at the University of Washington. In 2022, after transferring to the University of Mississippi, Culpepper finished third at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships in the mile and went on to qualify for the USATF Outdoor Championships in the 1500 meters. He decided to forego his remaining collegiate eligibility this fall and made the decision last month to join NAZ Elite.
Culpepper talked about what led him to make this move.
“For me to be moving in the direction I’m going, with the support of HOKA, along with my father as a coach, is a very exciting and relieving time in my life,” Culpepper said. “Having a brand like HOKA supporting my career and a great group of people and resources has completed the final puzzle pieces to making it all happen. I believe my path has led me here for a reason and I’m looking forward to my time ahead with NAZ Elite.”
Stoner joins the team after a successful college career at Syracuse University where she was a four-time NCAA All American and a five-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion for the Orange. After graduating in the spring of 2019 she joined the Reebok Boston Track Club where she set personal bests at 3,000 meters (9:01.36), 5,000 meters (15:16.17), and 10,000 meters (31:22.55). Then last month she ran 2:26:02 in the marathon to shatter her previous best, and break the course record, at the California International Marathon. Stoner will join an NAZ Elite roster that includes many of the top U.S. marathoners including reigning Olympic Trials champion, Aliphine Tuliamuk.
Stoner said athletes like Tuliamuk as well as veteran marathoners Stephanie Bruce, Kellyn Taylor, and Alice Wright were a major factor in her decision.
“The team has seen immense success over the last decade and with HOKA’s continued investment and the growth of the team, the future looks extremely bright,” Stoner said. “I was especially drawn to NAZ because they have proven to be a powerhouse in the marathon, which will likely be my primary focus in the years to come. I believe the team has all of the tools it takes to compete at the highest level in the sport and I am eager to begin this new chapter.”
HOKA NAZ Elite’s head coach talked about what it will mean to add Stoner to an already deep roster.
“We have been exploring the potential of having Paige come on the team for some time now and could not be more excited to have it all come together,” Culpepper said. “She is such a great addition to the group and I know that our team support will be just what she needs to continue her progression. I was out at the USATF National Marathon Championships in Sacramento and was fortunate to see her win that race firsthand. I was thoroughly impressed with her patience, focus, and fearlessness, and it was clear she has a champion’s mindset. Really excited to have her join the team.”
Culpepper also addressed adding his son Cruz to the team.
“I knew when I saw Cruz run in the low four-minute range in the mile at age 16 off minimal training that he was something special,” Culpepper said. “It is a tricky balance supporting your children in a sport you have had success in, while also allowing them to find their own way. I could not have predicted when I was helping him back in high school that we would end up working together again just a few years later, while at the same time I am not even remotely surprised either. Cruz has a level of maturity beyond his years and a level of drive that is immeasurable. Cruz and I have had many discussions around the dinner table about training and I could not be more enthusiastic about his potential and consider it a privilege to help him reach his goals.”
With the additions of Culpepper and Stoner, the NAZ Elite roster now stands at 18 total athletes. In the last 10 months the team has signed eight new members including NCAA national champions Krissy Gear, Olin Hacker, and Wesley Kiptoo. With the 2024 Olympic Games now just a year-and-a-half away, the team has an eclectic mix of athletes that can compete at distances from the 1,500 meters to the marathon.
HOKA Director of Global Sports Marketing, Mike McManus, talked about how these signings align with the brand’s goals for the team.
“We’re thrilled to add Paige and Cruz to NAZ Elite as we continue to expand our roster and target all significant track and road milestones,” McManus said.
Culpepper is scheduled to make his HOKA NAZ Elite debut later this month at the Boston University John Thomas Terrier Classic. Stoner will likely race next month but the exact date and event is still to be determined.
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