Thursday, October 22, 2009

GNAC Cross Country Championships slated for Saturday in Yakima...

The Seattle Pacific Falcon women's cross country will be going for their fifth straight conference crown, and the men will seek a top-four team finish that will guarantee them a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regionals when they step to the starting line for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) championships at Apple Ridge Run outside of Yakima on Saturday morning.

The 6-kilometer women’s race begins at 10 a.m., followed by the 8K men’s race at 11.

A three-team battle is looming in the women’s race. SPU, Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington all having a legitimate shot at it. Last fall, Anchorage came within four points of the Falcons with a strong surge during the last mile. But SPU prevailed, 48-52.

Seattle Pacific's Jessica Pixler, who is the two-time defending national champion, will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight GNAC women's individual title. Ashley Vincent of Western Washington (2001-02) is the only other conference athlete to win as many as two conference cross country titles.

One runner who has been hot as of late is Western Washington's Sarah Porter, who won the Viking Invitational two weeks ago, and placed in the top five at the Sundodger Invitational last month hosted by the University of Washington.

The SPU men fell one spot short making it to regionals in 2008 and are out to do something about that on Saturday. It very likely will come down to four teams -- SPU, Northwest Nazarene, Western Oregon and Saint Martin’s -- all in the chase behind Western Washington and defending champion Alaska Anchorage, led by defending individual champion Marko Cheseto.

Western Washington, however, might have an edge in the team race as it returns three All-Americans in Jordan Welling, Bennett Grimes and Blake Medhaug. Welling placed 29th in last year's national meet, while Medhaug was 36th (after placing 35th at the region meet). Grimes placed 41st in the national meet.

All three are two-time all-conference performers. Welling placed fifth, Grimes was ninth and Medhaug was 10th in the 2008 GNAC meet. Welling (WWU Invitational) and Grimes (CWU Apple Ridge) have wins this fall.

NOTE: The GNAC, Seattle Pacific, and Western Washington University's sports information offices contributed to this report.

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