Friday, October 23, 2015

GNAC cross country titles up for grabs Saturday at Bellingham's Lake Padden Park...

The state’s four Division II schools head up Interstate 5 north to Bellingham for Saturday’s GNAC cross country championships at Lake Padden Park, hosted by Western Washington University, as they try to unseat defending champs Alaska Anchorage (men), and Simon Fraser (women).

The 2014 women’s team race saw Simon Fraser, Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington divided by three points (62-63-64) proved the start of a banner championship for the GNAC. Those three teams, plus Central Washington, went on to top-six finishes at the West Region championships to give the conference an unprecedented four teams at the NCAA Division II Championships.

On paper, Alaska Anchorage is the team to beat in the women’s race, as they currently are the #7 team in the national USTFCCCA coaches’ poll.

Western Washington stands ready to compete on their home course. The Vikings, ranked No. 12 in the USTFCCA poll, have performed well against tough fields, winning September’s Sundodger Invitational and placing fourth at their own WWU Invitational. They were beat by only one GNAC squad: Alaska Anchorage.

Seattle Pacific, who figured out of the equation last year, is the league’s most improved team. The Falcons finished fifth last year, but have finished no worse than fourth as a team in their four meets this season, winning both races at the Moda Health Alaska Invitational, placing third at the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational and fourth at Sundodger. The Falcons enter the meet ranked 18th in the USTFCCCA poll.

Both Simon Fraser and Central Washington could play spoilers with a good showing Saturday, as they’ll be led by Rebecca Bassett, and Dani Eggleston, the second and third place finishers in last year’s GNAC title race.  Eggleston’s late season surge in 2014 helped the Wildcats secure a national championship berth, and she ended up as a D2 All-American.

The Clan’s Bassett and Anna Patti of SPU (above/photo courtesy GNAC) are the pre-meet favorites to take the individual crown.

On the men’s side, #5 Alaska Anchorage looks to win their sixth straight GNAC title, led by sophomore Henry Cheseto, the defending champion.

Western Washington hopes that racing on their home course will translate to a strong team finish. Second place at last year’s meet, the Vikings are ranked 21st in the USTFCCCA poll. The Vikings won the season-opening Central Washington Invitational behind a third place finish by freshman Nickolas Mounier and were third at the Sundodger Invitational. Sophomore Isaac Derline was fifth individually at Sundodger while sophomore Andrew Wise led the Vikings to a 14th place finish at their own WWU Invitational to lead a sixth place team finish.

Following the GNAC Championships, the league’s team will compete in two weeks at the NCAA West Regional Championships on Sat., Nov. 7. The top five teams in the West region meet will advance to the NCAA Division II Championships.

The meet gets underway at 10 am with the women’s 6k followed by the men’s 8k at 11am. Spectators are encouraged to get there early, as parking spots at the park may be at a premium, with numerous activities going on.

NOTE:  The GNAC and Western Washington University contributed to this report.

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