Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cross country preview: EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

paulmerca.blogspot.com's cross country series previewing this state's top college and university cross country teams continues, as we stay east of the Cascade Mountains.

Today's cross country preview features the Eastern Washington Eagles, coached by Chris Zeller.

In this year’s Big Sky Conference preseason polls recently released, Eastern’s women’s team ranked fifth and the men’s team was tied for fifth place with Sacramento State. Northern Arizona’s team was picked to sweep both men’s and women’s titles.

The Eagle men's squad won their own Clash of the Great Northwest meet last Saturday, while their women's squad placed third.

Eastern Washington will appear a week from Saturday at the Sundodger Invitational at Seattle's Lincoln Park.

Paul Limpf from Vancouver, Washington leads the Eagles in the 2008 season. Limpf finished fifth in the Big Sky Conference championships in 2007, helping the team to a seventh place finish, and was 45th at the NCAA West Regional championships.

On the women’s side, senior Amber Nickelson from Lake Stevens is Eastern’s top returning runner. Nickelson placed 26th at the Big Sky Conference Championships (19:04.10), helping the Eagles to a fourth place team finish, and was 118th at the NCAA West Regional Championships (22:37.25).

Joining Nickelson will be returners Lauren Matthews (Sammamish, Wash.), Amanda Weaver (Marysville, Wash.) and Brittney Williams (Colville, Wash.).

Among their new teammates are Kelly Downey (Omak, Wash.), Laura Friese (Lebam, Wash.), Stephanie Dye (Chatteroy, Wash.) and Tera Klein (Kalispell, Mont.).

"The women are coming off their best finish since going to NCAA Division I," said coach Chris Zeller. "However, we only return one runner from that squad’s top five in Amber Nickelson. She has already proven herself to be a great leader on this year’s team. She put in a great summer and would like to do some neat things this fall in her final cross country season.

"Joining her are a fun group of freshmen: Brittney Williams, Stephanie Dye, Kelly Downey, and Tera Klein," added Zeller. "They will be a great nucleus to form the team around as they develop into the fine runners they will become. The future is bright for this group."

Zeller’s squads will rely on youth to carry them through the season, as the Eagles lost key performers from the 2007 squad to graduation, particularly on the women’s side. On the men’s team, Limpf is the lone senior.

The top incoming freshman for Eastern Washington is Kyle King, the state 1A 3200 meter champion from Coupeville High. He’ll be joined by 4:28.9 performer Cody Barton from Ridgefield High, Isaac Kuula from Cheney HS, and Brandon Nobach from Marysville Pilchuck HS.

Joining Limpf will be returners Cody Bradwell (Kingston, Wash.), Calvin Clark (Prosser, Wash.), Bowe Ebding (Walla Walla, Wash.), Tyler Justice (Ridgefield, Wash.), Alex Smyth (Sequim, Wash.) and Graham Vaux (Yakima, Wash.).

"The men finished seventh last season, just two measly points from fifth place," said Zeller. "We return our top five from that team and add a gem in freshman Kyle King. Everyone comes into the season healthy and hungry. This is an incredible group of guys."

“I like the fact that we weren't ranked real high as the target won't be on our backs and we can surprise some people," said head cross country coach Chris Zeller. "NAU, Weber, and MSU are going to be really tough this year. Weber has five runners who finished in the top 21 last season at the conference championships. MSU returns their top five and adds Patrick Casey, the Montana State Champion and Junior National Champion."

NOTE: The sports information office at Eastern Washington University assisted with this report.

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