Seattle Pacific's women's squad (above/photo courtesy Seattle Pacific University), and both Western Washington University teams are set to compete in Saturday's NCAA Division II cross country championships in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.
For defending women's champ Jessica Pixler, it'll be a chance to cap a comeback from an injury (fractured femur, fractures in her back) during last winter's indoor track season that ultimately kept her on the sidelines for the spring outdoor track schedule.
"This is going to be like a fun chance to thank God for allowing me to have a healthy season," Pixler said. "I've been thinking about it a lot the last two or three weeks. I've decided to view the race as a blessing and kind of as a celebration of the fact that I can run and that I've worked so hard to come back.”
The Falcons finished second in last year's title meet, behind Adams State, and are currently ranked tenth according to the latest USTFCCCA polls. After winning the GNAC title, they finished second behind Chico State, led by former Washington Husky Tori Tyler, at the West Regionals in San Diego.
For Western Washington's Sarah Porter, who almost attended Eastern Washington University, Saturday's meet is an opportunity to see how much she's improved over her freshman year.
Her first year at Western culminated with a top 10 finish in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA D-II outdoor track and field championships, which Porter said "really set a standard" for her sophomore year.
After winning every race she ran during the regular season, Porter was second at the GNAC meet and third at the West regionals both won by Seattle Pacific's defending national champion, Jessica Pixler. Then Porter realized that success now is really expected at all.
"What was interesting was that last year at regionals, I placed 13th and everybody was like, `Oh, wow. That was great, Sarah. You ran the race of a lifetime,' " Porter said. "This year, I took third and my coach was like, `That wasn't your greatest race,' and I was like, `I know.' It's so funny how expectations shift. I've learned to expect more of myself, and because of that, other people expect more of me."
Porter's success has translated to success for the Vikings, as they qualified for the NCAA D-II meet for the first time in program history. The Vikings finished third at the GNAC meet and fifth at regionals.
It'll be cold going for that top seven – and everyone else's top seven at Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock. The current forecast calls for snow flurries and a race-time temperature of 27 degrees with 10-mph winds that will feel like 17 degrees with the wind-chill factor.
The Viking men's team, led by sophomore Jordan Welling, head into Slippery Rock as the #12 team in the country according to the USTFCCCA polls, after finishing third at the West Regionals two weeks ago in San Diego, despite a race stoppage and a subsequent re-run at the 5-k mark.
St. Martin's senior John Riak, who finished third at the NCAA West Regionals, will compete at the national championships as an individual for the third straight year. Riak finished 46th in last year's meet in Missouri.
The NCAA Division II championships will be streamed online starting at 9 am pacific time, via this link...
Click here to access the home page of the NCAA Division II championships, including final results.