Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jessica Pixler repeats as NCAA D-II harrier champ; Falcons fourth; both Viking squads tenth...

SLIPPERY ROCK, PA--Jessica Pixler (above/photo courtesy Seattle Pacific) felt as if she could have kept running, even after crossing the finish line in Saturday’s NCAA Division II cross country championships.

But there was no need. When the Seattle Pacific junior did cross the line, she was nearly half a minute in front of her closest challenger and way in front of most everyone else to capture her second straight national title.

Capping a season in which she came back from a major track injury, Pixler pulled away after the first mile of the 6,000-meter race at Cooper’s Lake Campground and won easily, leading the Falcons to a fourth-place finish in the team standings on a cold morning that was speckled with snow flurries.

“It was really kind of amazing. Even at the end, I felt good,” said Pixler, whose time of 20 minutes, 59 seconds broke the two-week-old course record and made her the first woman to beat the 21-minute mark on the Cooper’s Lake layout. “I had no idea how the race was going to go. I really had no plan going in it. My only plan was to give it my best shot.”

At the wire, Pixler (Sammamish, Wash., Eastlake HS) was 28 seconds in front of Shippensburg (Pa.) freshman Neely Spence, who was considered the primary challenger to Pixler. Spence, who ran 21:27 on Saturday, had set the previous course record of 21:09 when the won the Atlantic Regional meet on Nov. 8.

“This was my first time racing her. I had heard there was quite a bit of hype about her gong into the race,” Pixler said. “But I try not to worry too much about the competition. With cross country, you really can’t tell based on people’s times (because of the different courses).”

Pixler’s performance helped the Falcons place fourth among the 24 teams with 194 points. Defending champion Adams State of Colorado won again, this time with 79 points. Grand Valley State was second with 102, and Western State took the third-place trophy with 183.

Falcons junior Jane Larson (Fall City, Wash., Cedar Park Christian HS) delivered another strong performance, finishing 12th. Natty Plunkett (Bellevue, Wash., Newport HS), who earned GNAC Freshman of the Year honors on Oct. 25, placed 40th. Junior Kate Harline (Orem, Utah) was 69th, junior Lisa Anderberg (Edmonds, Wash., Kamiak HS) was 72nd, senior Katie Hart (Pasadana, Calif.) placed 87th, and freshman Mary Williams (Lake Jackson, Texas) was 91st.

Western Washington University men's and women's teams placed 10th and four Vikings earned All-America honors at the 2008 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the Cooper's Lake Campground course (host Slippery Rock University).

"It's an awesome feeling being here and having two top 10 teams," said Western coach Pee Wee Halsell (22nd year). "It's great to be back where we were in the early 90s with both teams at nationals and doing well, showing the rest of the country what we're all about."

The Viking women, making their first NCAA II national appearance and ranked No.24 in the final United State Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25, finished with 301 points in the 24-team field. They were led by Sarah Porter (So., Hockinson), who placed 13th to earn All-America recognition, covering the 6-kilometer course in 21:59 with the temperature hovering around 29 degrees.

Lauren Briehof (Fr., Vancouver/Mountain View) was 42nd in 23:05, Courtney Olsen (Jr., Bellingham/Squalicum) 56th in 23:24, Rachael Johnson (So., Yakima/West Valley) 94th in 23:58, Phoebe Hartnett (Fr., San Diego, CA/Patrick Henry) 99th in 24:02, Danielle Slaughter (Jr., Spokane/Shadle Park) 121st in 24:31 and McKinley Williams (So., Federal Way/Todd Beamer) 126th in 24:37.

"The second half of their race was the key for them," Halsell said. "They got into solid spots, but then they moved up very well. Everybody was moving during that portion of the race."

The Western men, ranked 12th nationally, had a 263 point total, just nine points behind ninth-place Colorado Mines. It was the Vikings' best NCAA national finish. They placed 11th last year and 13th in 2003.

"They went out and attacked a steep hill in the first 500 meters and established position," Halsell said. "It was hard to move up after that, but they were able to hold on because it was a tough course and that was to our advantage."

Leading the Vikings over the 10-kilomoter distance the trio of Jordan Welling (So., Burlington/Burlington-Edison), Blake Medhaug (So., Bothell) and Bennett Grimes (So., Pocatello, ID/Century), who all received All-America accolades.

Welling placed 23rd in 32:02, Medhaug 29th in 32:11 and Grimes 34th in 32:18. It was the second straight All-America honor for Grimes, who placed 43rd last year.

Western's Eric Brill (Fr., Kent/Kentwood) was 83rd in 33:14, Yonas Berhe (Fr., Seattle/Roosevelt) 94th in 33:26, Tahoma Khalsa (Jr., Shoreline/Shorecrest) 113th in 33:46, and Sam Bedell (Jr., Reno, NV) 129th in 34:15.

Adams State CO won both team titles. Seattle Pacific's Jessica Pixler dominated the women's race, posting a winning time of 20:59, 28 seconds ahead of the next competitor. Chico State's Scott Bauhs was the men's individual champion in 30:23.

It was the first time since joining the NCAA in 1998 that the Vikings had qualified both their squads for nationals in the same season.

St. Martin’s University senior John Riak finished 101st in a time of 33:17.

Complete results of the NCAA Division II championships can be accessed here.

NOTE: The sports information office of Seattle Pacific, Western Washington, and St. Martin’s all contributed to this report.

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