Friday, October 28, 2011

Gonzaga, Eastern Washington & SeattleU set for conference championship races Saturday...

While Washington State and Washington head to Arizona for the first Pac-12 championships, the state's other three NCAA Division I schools are also gearing up for their conference championships.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (left/men's team photo courtesy Gonzaga University) will make their way to Belmont, California for the WCC championships Saturday, where they will face the likes of perennial champion Portland, and newcomer BYU, which threatens to challenge the Pilots' stranglehold of the men's team title.

Gonzaga earned its first USTFCCCA regional ranking on the men's side, coming in at #14.

If the Bulldogs can finish third Saturday, Gonzaga head coach Pat Tyson will guarantee that he will take his squad to Palo Alto in two weeks for the NCAA West Regionals.

"There are many ways to look at it. You can look at it as pressure, but I see it as a feather in your cap or a stripe on your jersey that you deserve to be here and that you deserve to go to regionals," Tyson said.

On the women's side, the Zags, who won the Inland Northwest Cross Country Classic team title in Spokane two weeks ago, will be led by Lindsay Drake, who earned her first individual victory at that meet.

The WCC championships will be web cast Saturday beginning at 9am with the men's 8k race via this link.

Eastern Washington travels to Pocatello, Idaho for the Big Sky championships, hosted by Idaho State University.

“Their course has a lot of hills, which is something we haven’t had a chance to see yet,” said head coach Chris Zeller about Pocatello’s elevation. “But our teams are competitive and mentally tough. They’ll be just fine.”

The men’s and women’s team are bringing seven and eight runners, respectively, to the championships. The Eastern men will be suiting up senior Bowe Ebding, senior Graham Vaux, junior Simon Sorenson, junior Drake DaPonte, freshman Quin Olivas, freshman Nathan Falland a last-minute addition of junior Jordan Curnutt.

On the women’s side, senior Tonya Turner, senior Stephanie Dye, freshman Katie Mahoney, sophomore Angelica Rodriguez, sophomoreMicaela Rasmussen, freshman Acacia Smith, sophomore Kimberly Macias and freshman Dani Moon will be running.

Last year, the men and women finished fifth and seventh, respectively, at the conference championships. Both teams have a new-look roster, as the two front runners in Kyle King (redshirt) and Amy Kolin (graduation) are not on the team.

Seattle University will race at the Great West Conference meet Saturday in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

SeattleU coach Trisha Steidl will have in her arsenal a good mix of experience and youth on the women's side, while the men's squad will include several runners who have been with the program but are gaining their first experience at a conference championship meet.

"I think they (the women) all have enough experience, and the freshmen will have good people around them to tell them what to expect, so we have a good mix of experience and young people who are tenacious and excited for this race," Steidl said. "The guys are a completely inexperienced group, but I know that they have the determination for this, and they want to finish out our tenure in the Great West by being second again."

"I think we can be very competitive with the other women's teams. If we have our best day, there is a chance for second place. My original goal was for fourth place, but if they race like they did last weekend, then third or second is a definite possibility."

"I hope that they (the men) are motivated to take care of every little thing that they have control over so that they are feeling the best they can on Saturday both physically and mentally," Steidl said.

In the preseason coaches' poll, the SeattleU men were picked to finish second, while the women were selected to finish fourth. Utah Valley is the favorite to once again win both the men's and women's conference titles, but the Redhawks expect to see competition from host school North Dakota as well as Texas-Pan American and Houston Baptist in both races.

ANALYSIS OF THE TOP 30 NCAA WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY TEAMS

For those who follow collegiate women's cross country, Mike Scott has a great blog site where you can read his in-depth analysis of the top 30 teams in NCAA Division I.

You can access that site here.

NOTE: The sports information offices at Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, and SeattleU contributed to this report.

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