The collegiate cross country comes to a roaring climax Saturday as the NCAA Division I, II & III championships are contested Saturday at three different venues around the country.
Most of the country's eyes will be pointed towards Louisville, Kentucky and the Division I championships at Tom Sawyer State Park, where the #7 ranked University of Washington women's team will try for their fourth top-four finish since 2008, in the 6k championship race that starts at 9 am, pacific time, and will be streamed live via ncaa.com.
The Dawgs saw the course earlier this season at the Greater Louisville Classic, a meet in which they finished second to Arizona, without junior Megan Goethals (right/photo by Randy Miyazaki, trackandfieldphoto.com).
Coach Greg Metcalf's squad returns five of their top-seven runners from last year’s NCAA meet, where they finished second overall in a tight battle with Georgetown. Junior Katie Flood and Goethals earned All-America honors last year, finishing seventh and 18th, respectively, in Terre Haute.
At Pac-12s, and West Regionals, the women placed fourth behind Oregon, Arizona, and Stanford, three teams sitting ahead of UW in the rankings. Washington will look flip the tables come Saturday. Florida State enters the race ranked No. 1 nationally, and No. 3 Iowa State, No. 6 Michigan, and No. 8 Providence are teams outside of the Pac-12 with podium designs of their own.
On the men's side, Joey Bywater of Washington and Todd Wakefield (above/photo by Paul Merca) of Washington State will compete as individuals in the men's 10k championship race that gets underway at 10:15 am pacific time, having earned top-four finishes at last week's Regionals from a non-qualifying team.
Bywater was eighth overall at last week's race, while the Cougars' Wakefield, a middle distance specialist, finished 14th, nipping WAC cross country champ Erik Barkhaus of SeattleU for the last individual spot to nationals.
Courtesy of Washington State, here's a video interview with Wakefield:
Other significant individuals with Washington ties competing at Saturday's D1 championships include Redmond HS grad Devin McMahon of #16 Cornell, and Gig Harbor HS grad Miles Unterreiner of #2 Stanford.
Unterreiner will actually spend most of Friday in Seattle interviewing for one of 32 Rhodes Scholarships, fly to Louisville for the race, then return to Seattle on a private plane to complete his interview with the Rhodes Scholarship committee.
In Joplin, Missouri, the men's team from Western Washington and the women's squad from Seattle Pacific will look to improve upon their national ranking.
The Viking men are ranked #10, while the Falcon women are ranked #25 in the final regular season poll conducted by the USTFCCCA.
Western has finished among the top 10 in each of the last four years, being 10th in 2011, ninth in 2010, fourth in 2009 and 10th in 2008.
"Our goal is to finish in the top 10 and I believe we have a good chance of doing that," said WWU coach Pee Wee Halsell. "I think we're capable of it, things just need to happen the way we'd like."
Seattle Pacific makes its first team appearance at the national championships since 2009, when the Falcons placed fourth, led by Jessica Pixler, who won the individual title that year.
Western will be led by Dak Riek, who finished fifth at the West Regionals in Kahuku, Hawaii two weeks ago.
SPU will be led by senior Katie Thralls, who was their top finisher at regionals, placing 11th.
"Knowing that nationals is something to strive for and reach for, and now that we've actually made it, it's like, 'Wow – I can't imagine,'” Thralls said. “It's actually here, it's reality."
Humboldt State senior Bridget Berg, a product of Seattle's Ballard HS, looks for her second straight NCAA D2 All-American berth.
Like the NCAA Division I championships, the Division II meet will be streamed live from the Missouri Southern cross country course on ncaa.com, with the men's 10k race getting underway at 8:30 am pacific, and the women's 6k race starting at 9:30 am.
While there are no teams from the state of Washington competing in Saturday's NCAA Division III championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, two athletes with state connections will line up.
Roosevelt HS grad Lucy Cheadle, who competes for Washington University in St. Louis, will run in the women's 6k race at 9 am pacific, while University of Puget Sound senior Matt Klein, who finished tenth at the NCAA D3 West Regionals in Salem, Oregon, will run in the men's 8k race at 8 am, pacific.
NCAA.com will stream the meet live from the LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute.
NOTE: The NCAA, the USTFCCCA, along with the sports information offices of the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington, Seattle Pacific, and the University of Puget Sound contributed to this report.