Friday, November 5, 2010

Western women aim for first ever GNAC cross country crown...

Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington are expected to fight it out for both the men's and women's team titles in the 10th annual GNAC Cross Country Championships, hosted by Central Washington University at the Apple Ridge Run Cross Country Facility near Yakima Saturday.

However, it's likely just Round 1 for the two heavyweights as they will see each other again in two weeks in Bellingham for the NCAA Division II West Regional at Lake Padden and likely again on Dec. 4 in Louisville, Kentucky, for the national championships.

Between the two they have won seven of the nine previous men's titles. Alaska Anchorage, which is ranked eighth nationally, won men's titles in 2002, 2005 and 2008.

The Seawolves, who will be led by defending two-time champion Marko Cheseto, figure to have a slight edge over the defending champion Vikings, who have won three of the last four titles and four overall (2003, 2006, 2007, 2009) and are ranked 11th.

On the women's side, Seattle Pacific has won five titles since 2003, but the Falcons are in a slight rebuilding mode and nationally fourth-ranked UAA hopes to claim its second championship in a row.

The Vikings, meanwhile, who are ranked eighth nationally, will be going for their first ever GNAC women's team title.

Western athletes have won two individual women's titles (Ashlee Vincent in 2001 and 2002) and Sarah Porter (left/photo courtesy WWU Sports Information) hopes to make it three. A year ago, Porter was the runner-up to SPU's Jessica Pixler in the conference, regional and national meets and will be among the favorites in all three races this time around.

Porter is one of four Western Washington athletes looking to join an exclusive club by earning their fourth consecutive GNAC all-conference award with a Top 10 finish.

Only five others – all women – have accomplished that feat and only three – Pixler (2006-09), SPU's Jane Larson (2006-09) and UAA's Mandy Kaempf (2003-06) – have done it in consecutive seasons.

WWU seniors Bennett Grimes, Jordan Welling and Blake Medhaug all have an opportunity to become the first men to join the exclusive group.

Meanwhile, Cheseto will be looking to become the first male to win three consecutive conference individual titles. He won the 2008 title in a Apple Ridge record-time of 24:30.27 and repeated last season with a time of 24:50. No one else has ever won more than once in the men's conference meet.

Competition will get under Saturday on the Apple Ridge facility at 11 a.m. with the men's 8,000-meter race. The women's 6,000-meter race will follow at noon.

The meet program can be accessed here.

NOTE: The Great Northwest Athletic Conference contributed to this report.

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