SPOKANE, Wash. – The Willamette Bearcats are the favorites to claim both the men's and women's conference titles at the Northwest Conference Cross Country Championships this Saturday at Downriver Golf Course in Spokane.
The Willamette men will defend their NWC title, having won their first title since 2009 at last year's meet. After finishing seventh at the 2012 championship, Whitman has a chance to challenge the Bearcats and claim its first title since 1966.
The Willamette women are the favorite to win their first NWC crown since 2008, after finishing second to Lewis & Clark for the past three seasons. The Whitworth women, who finished third in 2012, are the top challengers to the Bearcats, aiming for their first title since 2009.
Individually, Willamette's Parker Bennett is the top returner in the men's race. The Sisters, Ore. senior will defend his title this year. Pacific's Tyler Shipley, who has earned Northwest Conference Student-Athlete of the Week four times this season, will challenge Bennett after placing ninth in the 2012 championship. Lewis & Clark's Melissa Newton-Mora is the top returner in the women's race. The Seattle, Wash. senior placed second in the 2012 championship. Willamette's Michaela Freeby, who placed third in the 2012 championship, looks to challenge Newton-Mora for the 2013 title.
The women's 6,000-meter race will begin at 11 a.m., with the men's 8,000-meter race following at noon.
Willamette regained the title last year, and appears to be in line to claim the honors in 2013. The Bearcats enter the meet ranked third in the USTFCCCA West Region Rankings and are receiving votes in the USTFCCCA National Coaches' Poll. Led by Parker Bennett, the Willamette men's cross country team achieved third place at the Charles Bowles Invitational and was 12th at the Brooks Invitational in Wisconsin.
After placing seventh in the 2012 championship, Whitman is poised to challenge Willamette for the 2013 title. The Missionary men, ranked fifth in the regional rankings, are coming off their best showing at an invitational this season, a fourth place at the Lewis & Clark Invitational, and were the top placing Northwest Conference team by 16 points. T.C. Heydon, Whitman's top finisher in four of Whitman's five meets, leads a group that runs tightly together. On several occasions, no more than 20-seconds have separated the top four Whitman runners.
Puget Sound enters the meet ranked sixth regionally. The Loggers have had solid performances in most races, including a dominant 32-point victory in their own Puget Sound Invitational. Joshua Seekatz is the most decorated Logger, finishing second in the Puget Sound Invitational and tallying three other top-20 finishes.
Whitworth and Linfield also enter the NWC Championships as regionally ranked teams with the Pirates ranked eighth and the Wildcats ranked ninth. Chris MacMurray has been the most consistent of the Pirates, the top Whitworth finisher in three of the Pirates' five races this season. Two-time all-region performer Joe Gladow looks to top his career-best seventh-place finish at the NWC Championships in his final season as a Wildcat.
For most of the season the George Fox men have hovered right on the edge of the West Region top 10, and look to finish in the top half of the conference. The Bruins won the Warner Pacific Open and have a second, a third, and two fourth-place finishes in their other races. Top runners for the Bruins have been senior Joseph Pia, who has two fifths and one eighth-place finish this season, and junior Koby Tarbell, who has one third and a pair of 12th-place finishes.
Lewis & Clark returns seven runners from last year's second place finish in the NWC. Seniors Jarrod Nixon and Andrew LeDonne lead the way for Lewis & Clark. Nixon's season-best time of 25:42.62 was at the Sundodger Invitational on Sept. 14, while LeDonne ran a season-best 25:36.38 in the same race.
Pacific (Ore.) and Pacific Lutheran are both teams that have individuals that can contend for the title. A four-time NWC Men's Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Week this season, Tyler Shipley is the second fastest runner in Pacific school history after running a personal best of 24:49.28 at September's Sundodger Invitational. Two-time NWC Men's Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Week Alan DenAdel has a pair of meet titles under his belt and has finished in the top-10 in all but one race this season.
After finishing second to the Pioneers in each of the last two meets, 2013 could be the year that Willamette claims the trophy. The Bearcats enter the meet ranked second in the USTFCCCA West Region Rankings and are tied for 26th in the USTFCCCA National Coaches' Poll. The Willamette women placed third at the 39th Annual Charles Bowles Invitational and took eighth place at the Brooks Invitational in Wisconsin. Michaela Freeby earned first place at the Charles Bowles Invitational and was third at the Brooks Invitational.
Claiming the 2013 title won't be an easy task for the Bearcats, as six of the 10 regional rankings belong to Northwest Conference teams.
The Whitworth women could spoil Willamette's chances for the title in 2013. The Pirates have had success this season, most recently claiming the Lewis & Clark Invitational team title, and are ranked third regionally and are tied for 34th in the national polls. Christina Williams, fresh off an individual meet title at Lewis & Clark, has led the Pirates this season, but the Pirates also have a strong sophomore class that could push them to a crown in 2013.
Though Lewis & Clark is not the favorite entering the race, the Pioneers are still in the mix for the title. Ranked fifth in the region, Lewis & Clark returns 12 runners from last year's Northwest Conference Championship team. The Pioneers have been paced by seniors Melissa Newton-Mora and Kaitlyn Throgmorton, who both posted season-best times at the Lewis & Clark Invitational a couple of weeks ago.
Linfield's women, eighth in the regional rankings, tend to run in a pack, a characteristic the Wildcats hope propels them to a team title this season after challenging for it in recent years. Hannah Greider and Siena Noe have provided a solid, and sometimes interchangeable, one-two punch for the Wildcats all season long, while fellow senior Katie Skinner has consistently finished as Linfield's third runner.
Puget Sound and Whitman also enter the meet regionally ranked as the Loggers are ranked ninth and the Missionaries are ranked tenth. The Loggers have been headlined by Kathryn Flyte, with Flyte winning the Puget Sound Invitational, taking second in the Lewis & Clark Invitational, and earning two more top-20 finishes. The Missionaries are led by Skye Pauly who has been the Missionaries' top finisher in every race this season and earned Northwest Conference Student-Athlete of the Week for her first place finish at the Whitman Invitational.
George Fox has captured the Warner Pacific Open and has two seconds, a fourth, and a fifth-place finish in its other races. Erin Sanders has established herself as the Bruins' top runner, winning the Warner Pacific race, taking second in the Linfield Harrier Classic, and finishing no lower than eighth in any of her five races. Sarah McKenzie and Katie Dyck could also give the Bruins some all-conference threats.
Pacific (Ore.) and Pacific Lutheran will both look to challenge on the individual level. Sidney Davis has continued to improve for Pacific over the course of the season, setting a personal best time at the Lewis & Clark Invitational that moved her in the No. 13 spot on Pacific's all-time list at the 6,000-meter distance. The duo of Genevieve Brandt and Amanda Wilson has led the PLU women, finishing one and two among Lute runners at almost every meet this season.