Monday, September 8, 2008

Cross country preview: GONZAGA UNIVERSITY

paulmerca.blogspot.com begins a series previewing this state's top college and university cross country teams.

We begin our preview with the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, led by first-year head coach Pat Tyson.

The biggest question surrounding Tyson is whether or not the magic that marked his successful run at Mead High School will follow him across town to Gonzaga.

Tyson, who had a short stint as cross country coach at the University of Kentucky, and most recently coached at South Eugene High School, was lured back to Spokane with the goal of challenging perennial West Coast Conference powerhouse Portland.

Tyson looks to improve upon the men’s seventh place finish in the conference, and the sixth place finish of the women’s squad.

The Bulldogs return their top two runners from last year, Colby Litzenberger from Walla Walla, and Brett Withers from Woodinville. They’ll be joined by incoming freshmen Matt Gosselin from Bellarmine Prep, the Seattle Prep duo of Cameron O’Neill and Andrew Walker, and Blanchet’s Chris Boyle.

On the women’s side, Molly Funk and Laura Volcheff, who finished 30th and 34th in last year’s WCC championship meet, return for the Zags. Their top incoming freshmen are Teresa Makowski from Jesuit High in Portland, and Elizabeth Slamkowski from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Bulldogs began their season last Saturday at the Clash of the Great Northwest meet, hosted by Eastern Washington.

Junior Brett Withers paced the Bulldog men with an 8th-place finish in 19:59.1 over the 6K course, while senior Colby Litzenberger, battling allergies, was 14th in 20:20.1.

On the women's side, sophomore Laura Volcheff got Tyson's attention with her 15th-place finish in 16:21.5 over the 4K layout. Junior Molly Funk was 21st in 16:53.4 and freshman Elizabeth Slamkowski 22nd in 17:00.7.

"We've been working two weeks and I liked the fact we ran with heart and ran with pride and didn't embarrass the Gonzaga on the jersey," Tyson said. "We have one under our belt."

He applauded Withers and Volcheff for setting the bench mark.

"Brett ran against some good runners. He could be an All-American. Colby will be huge for us and he finished near Brett. Laura set a nice bench mark for the women to be attached to. We need to get four or five others with her and close the gap a little bit if the women are to be successful."

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

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