For the state's four NCAA Division II schools--Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin's, Western Washington--this marks the opening weekend for each school's cross country teams, and the start of the road that each school hopes will end across the state in Spokane at the NCAA Division II championships.
The new-look Seattle Pacific Falcons, with head track coach Karl Lerum promoted to director of track & field/cross country and new assistant Audra Smith, formerly from the University of Washington running the show, head to the West Ridge Ski Trails near the campus of Alaska Fairbanks for the Alaska Cross Country Invitational. The long-course race (8 kilometers for men, 6 for women) is set for Thursday evening, and the short-course race (4K for both genders) is Saturday morning.
The Falcons lost Katie Thralls to graduation, and Robyn Zeidler is no longer with the team. On the men's side, Jordan Wolfe, and AJ Baker, who led the team at last year's meets in Alaska, are graduated.
However, SPU has four returning runners on the women's side that ran in the top seven, and three from last year's men's squad to build their team around.
The women's team is led by junior Jasmine Johnson and soph Lynelle Decker (above/photo courtesy Seattle Pacific), along with senior McKayla Fricker, all of whom have NCAA championship meet experience.
A trio of juniors--Turner Wiley, Ryan Alcantara, and Alex Horton--are expected to be the front runners for the Falcons this season.
Friday, Saint Martin's competes in Portland at the Portland State Viking Classic in Portland.
The Saints will have a new look, as Jason McConnell, the former track & cross country coach at Evergreen State College in Olympia, takes over as the head cross country coach and track & field assistant.
In a related move, the school last week announced the resignation of their head track & field coach, Dee Dee Montgomery, who left to take an administrative position at another school.
Saturday, Western Washington heads to Ellensburg to run against Northwest Nazarene and host Central Washington at the CWU Apple Ridge Invitational.
NOTE: The sports information office of Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin's University, and the GNAC contributed to this report.