Thursday, November 6, 2008

Falcons, Vikings off to San Diego for NCAA D-II West Regionals...

It's make or break time for Seattle Pacific cross country.

The Falcon women's team (above/photo courtesy SPU sports information) and two members from the men's squad will head south to San Diego for the NCAA West Regionals. The races are set for Saturday morning on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla, Calif., with the men starting their 10,000-meter race at 8:45 a.m. and the women beginning their 6,000-mete run at 10:15 a.m.

At stake will be berths in the NCAA Division II nationals, set for Saturday, Nov. 22, in Slippery Rock, Pa. For the defending regional champion Falcon women, a top-five team finish will earn tickets to Pennsylvania. On the men's side, with only senior Brian Cronrath and junior Chad Meis competing as individuals, finishing in the top five, or being one of the top two runners who aren't members of the three qualifying teams will earn a spot.

Led by defending regional and national champion Jessica Pixler (Sammamish, Wash., Eastlake HS), the Falcon women are seeking a return trip to the NCAAs after finishing second last year. They will take a No. 12 national ranking and a No. 3 West Region ranking into the race.

Seattle Pacific went into the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships on Oct. 25 in Naches as the favorite to win its fourth straight team title. The Falcons did win it. But it was their closest call, as they hung on to edge Alaska Anchorage, 48-52.

While things were tight from a team standpoint, it was no contest individually. Pixler, a junior, made it 3 for 3 in GNAC meets, establishing an sizable lead early and gradually extending it. She finished 6,000 meters at Apple Ridge Run in 21 minutes, 12 seconds, beating runner-up Sarah Porter of Western Washington to the finish line by 39 seconds.

Junior Jane Larson (Fall City, Wash., Cedar Park Christian HS) ran a solid third for SPU, and freshman Natty Plunkett (Bellevue, Wash., Newport HS) was seventh, giving the Falcons three among the top 10. Then, some solid pack running behind them clinched the crown. Junior Kate Harline (Orem, Utah) was 16th, then junior Lisa Anderberg (Edmonds, Wash., Kamiak HS), senior Katie Hart (Pasadena, Calif.) and freshman Mary Williams (Lake Jackson, Texas) came across in 21st, 22nd and 23rd, respectively.

Pixler's victory made her the GNAC's Female Athlete of the Year, and Plunkett earned Freshman of the Year honors by virtue of being the first frosh to the finish. Those two were joined by Larson on the All-GNAC squad.


Western Washington University hopes to accomplish a first since it joined the NCAA in 1998, qualify both its men's and women's cross country teams for the national championships in the same season.

The Vikings shoot for that double Saturday at the NCAA II West Regional on the UC San Diego campus course in La Jolla, Calif. The men's 10-kilometer race begins at 8:45 a.m., followed by the women's 6-kilometer run at 10:15 a.m.

The top three men's teams and the first five women's squads advance to the national championships on Nov. 22 at Slippery Rock, Penn. The top two individuals not on a qualifying team also qualify for nationals.

In this week's United States Cross Country Coaches Association/NCAA Division II Top 25, the Western men are ranked No.11 and the Viking women No.25.

Chico State has won the last six regional men's titles and goes into both races as the No.1-ranked team.

Alaska Anchorage, which won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference men's title, is rated No.2 and Western No.3.

"Our men look to be a solid third," Halsell said, "and, if the right things happen, we could beat either one of them (Alaska Anchorage or Chico State)."

The Western men placed second at regionals last fall and went on to finish 11th at nationals. They also reached nationals in 2003, placing 13th.

Leading the Viking men are three sophomores, All-American Bennett Grimes (So., Pocatello, ID/Century), Blake Medhaug (So., Bothell) and Jordan Welling (So., Burlington/Burlington-Edison).

Completing the squad are Yonas Berhe (Fr., Seattle/Roosevelt), Tahoma Khalsa (Jr., Shoreline/Shorecrest), Eric Brill (Fr., Kent/Kentwood) and Sam Bedell (Jr., Reno, NV).

In the women's division, No.3-rated and GNAC champion Seattle Pacific is the defending titlist with Western ranked No.6. Cal State L.A. is No.2, Alaska Anchorage No.4 and the host Tritons No.5.

The Viking women have never gone to nationals since joining the NCAA. Their last national appearance was as an NAIA member in 1996 and the last time both squads went to nationals the same year was in 1994.

"We're really close and I think that we can get UC San Diego," said Halsell, "but it's going to be a hard-fought battle. Our fifth runner has to beat their fifth runner for us to win."

Western placed third at the league championships with Sarah Porter (So., Hockinson) finishing second individually. Porter, who went to nationals last year, was undefeated in her four regular-season meets.

Also representing the Vikings are Lauren Briehof (Fr., Vancouver/Mountain View), Phoebe Hartnett (Fr., San Diego, CA/Patrick Henry), Rachael Johnson (So., Yakima/West Valley), Courtney Olsen (Jr., Bellingham/Squalicum), Danielle Slaughter (Jr., Spokane/Shadle Park), and McKinley Williams (So., Federal Way/Todd Beamer).

NOTE: The sports information offices of Seattle Pacific and Western Washington Universities contributed to this report.

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