HILLSBORO, Ore. – Whitworth University hopes to repeat its surprise women's title from 2015 while the Willamette University men will be after their fifth straight crown in the Northwest Conference Cross Country Championships, hosted by George Fox University at Willamette Mission State Park in Brooks, Ore., this Saturday, Oct. 29.
The women's 6K race will begin at 10:00 a.m., followed by the men's 8K race at 11:00 a.m. Ceremonies for the presentation of team and individual honors will take place at approximately 12:00 noon. The home page for the Northwest Conference Championships may be found at http://www.nwcsports.com/sports/xc/2016-17/releases/XC-Championships-16.
Whitworth won the 2015 women's title over favored Willamette 31 points to 46 at Pacific Lutheran University's South Park in Parkland, Wash., in a steady rain. Willamette turned the tables two weeks later, however, winning the NCAA Division III West Regional while Whitworth came in third. Whitman College was third in last year's NWC race with 113 points, followed by the University of Puget Sound with 126, Linfield College 149, Lewis & Clark College 156, George Fox 182, Pacific University (Ore.) 198, and Pacific Lutheran 204.
Entering this week, Whitworth is ranked 31st in the nation by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and second in the West Region. Willamette has been in and out of the national top 35 several times this fall and is currently ranked fourth in the region. Also regionally ranked are Lewis & Clark (ninth) and George Fox (10th).
Olivia Mancl of Willamette, who earned All-America honors with a second-place finish in the National Championships and was second in the West Regional, is the defending NWC champion. Supporting her are a pair of All-Region runners in Hannah Swanson and Ami Boucher.
Whitworth's chances to repeat center around Kayla Leland, who has earned NWC Student-Athlete of the Week honors three times this season. Allison Wood is back after finishing fifth in last year's NWC Championships and seventh in the regional, earning All-NWC and All-Region honors. Stephenie Spencer of Pacific, who finished sixth in the NWC and eighth in the regional last year to receive All-NWC and All-Regional accolades, can be expected to compete for the individual title this weekend.
Kaelia Neal and Emma Knudson give Linfield a pair of All-NWC Second Team and All-Regional performers back from last year. Other top runners to watch include All-Regional performer Kori Groenveld of Lewis & Clark, Kayla Moore of George Fox, Thais Pedro-Trujillo of Whitworth, Tori Klein of Puget Sound, and newcomer Whitney Rich of Whitman.
Willamette placed five runners in the top 10 positions and cruised to victory in last year's NWC men's race, with 31 points to 77 for runner-up Puget Sound. Third went to Whitman with a 94 points, then came Whitworth with 118, Pacific Lutheran 139, George Fox 144, Linfield 148, Lewis & Clark 176, and Pacific (Ore.) 243.
While no NWC teams are currently ranked in the national top 35 by the USTFCCCA, Willamette has been included in the rankings most of the season and stands fifth in the West Region. Lewis & Clark, Whitman, Whitworth and George Fox hold down the seventh through 10th spots in the regional rankings respectively.
Willamette's chances to repeat as conference champion focus around Patrick Loftus and Keith Carlson, who finished seventh and 10th respectively in the 2015 race to earn All-NWC status. Loftus also garnered All-Regional honors.
There will be a new individual men's champion as two-time winner Tyler Shipley of Puget Sound graduated, but his teammate who finished second in the NWC race and fifth in the regional, Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski, is back. Brad Hodkinson of Pacific Lutheran, who came in fourth in the NWC and the regional and has twice been named NWC Student-Athlete of the Week this fall, is a legitimate threat to win it all as well.
Blake Slattengren, who came in 12th to earn All-NWC Second Team honors, and Liam Monheim, an NWC Student-Athlete of the Week selection two weeks ago, give Lewis & Clark a pair of solid contenders. Matt Wotipka, who placed 11th to earn All-NW Second Team honors, is back to lead Whitman. Others to keep an eye on include Grant Bingham of Whitworth, Josh Meyer of George Fox, Adrian Clifford of Linfield, and Logan Naegeli of Pacific.