|The Washington men's team won its first NCAA West Regional|
cross country title (photo by Paul Merca)
At the end of perhaps one of the most miserable cross country meets I’ve attended in my lifetime, the University of Washington men’s and women’s squads, plus several individuals with Washington ties, overcame the bad weather Friday afternoon to punch their tickets to Louisville, Kentucky for the NCAA Cross Country Championships in eight days.
Though the temperatures were around the low-to-mid 50s at the start of the women’s 6k race at noon, the wind and the rain made conditions at Jefferson Park Golf Course on Beacon Hill just plain nasty for the athletes, spectators, and officials at the NCAA West Regionals, turning parts of the course’s fairways into muddy sections.
The Husky men’s team won its first ever NCAA regional title, thanks in part to the efforts of Tyler King, Andrew Gardner, and Colby Gilbert, who finished fifth (31:09), tenth (31:20), and twelfth (31:22), while season long front runner Izaic Yorks was 14th in 31:26.
Soph Fred Huxham rounded out the Husky scorers with his 22nd place finish in 31:38, giving the Dawgs a 29-second 1-5 split.
While reigning NCAA champ Edward Cheserek of Oregon won the regional crown in 30:44, Washington State’s John Whelan did everything he could to make it difficult , leading for the first four laps of the 2-k loop before pulling away on the final lap, as Whelan finished in 30:55.
Eleven seconds behind Whelan was Cougar teammate Michael Williams in 31:06 to take third.
Sam Levora was 32nd in 31:53, Nathan Tadesse was 37th in 31:56, and Chandler Teigen was 51st in 32:07 as the Cougars scored just as big an upset as the Huskies by placing fourth with 125 points.
The top four teams were Washington (63), Stanford (83), Oregon (99), and Washington State (125), which puts the Cougars in the conversation for one of the coveted 13 at-large team spots to next week’s NCAA championship meet.
Washington and Stanford earned the two automatic team spots, while Oregon, which was ranked in the national top five for the entire regular season, should get in as one of the first at-large teams. The Cougs should get into the national championship race, as they beat #20 UCLA (7th, 163), and #24 Boise State (5th, 137).
Gonzaga finished tenth with 253 points, led by Matthew Crichlow’s 18th place finish (31:31), while Eastern Washington was 18th with 551 points, led by Alex Kimsey, who was 90th in 32:55. Seattle University was 22nd with 647 points, led by Ben Monk in 110th in 33:27.
“Running 10k is all about being ready at the end of the season, and being strong and committed. Our guys went out today and just delivered. They were aggressive. To have five guys in the top-25 at this meet is just fantastic. To beat Stanford and Oregon and win the West is a huge deal for our guys and it’s a great momentum builder heading into Louisville next week,” said Husky coach Greg Metcalf.
WSU coach Wayne Phipps was just as excited as Metcalf at the prospect of going to Louisville.
“The men were awesome and fourth in the toughest region in the nation is an incredible accomplishment. Michael and John ran brilliant races and their supporting staff battled the entire race which was a key in our team's success. Our work is not done; getting to nationals is just the first step as we have high expectations for ourselves in Louisville. We are much better prepared for 10km than 8km and it showed today. We will get up early tomorrow morning for our long run and be ready to roll in Louisville.”
In the opening women’s race, Gonzaga’s Shelby Mills (left/photo by Paul Merca) led early, with a large group including Washington’s Maddie Meyers patiently waiting behind.
Freshman sensation Allie Ostrander of Boise State pulled ahead on the final lap to win in 20:11, as Meyers took third in 20:38. Gig Harbor native Brenna Peloquin of Boise State was fourth in 20:38.
Mills hung on to take seventh in 20:48, while Eastern Washington’s Sarah Reiter finished ninth in 20:54, followed by the Huskies’ Katie Knight in 21:00.
Behind Knight, Charlotte Prouse was 14th in 21:05, followed by Kaylee Flanagan in 33rd at 21:21, and Anna Maxwell in 45th in 21:31, as the Huskies finished third with 105 points.
Oregon won with 79 points to edge Boise State by one, with Stanford fourth at 121, despite not running Pac-12 champ Aisling Cuffe.
In a surprise, Gonzaga, which won the WCC title two weeks ago in Spokane Valley, finished sixth with 224 points behind WCC rival San Francisco with 182.
Behind Mills were Jessica Mildes in 21st (21:10), Jordan Thurston in 44th (21:31), Amelia Evans in 76th (22:03), and Maggie Jones in 78th (22:03).
At the WCC championships, the Dons finished third behind Gonzaga and BYU.
San Francisco’s fifth place finish may potentially put Gonzaga out of the national championship race, especially since Gonzaga only ran against nationally ranked teams at the Bill Dellinger Invite (Oregon), their own WCC preview meet (BYU), and the Washington Invite (Oregon, UW, Stanford, BYU), and did not travel to one of the major Midwest invitationals.
Eastern Washington, which had high hopes of possibly sneaking into the national championship conversation after a second place finish at the Big Sky championships, and a high finish at the Pre-Nationals meet in Louisville in October, finished a disappointing 12th with 344 points, one point and one place behind Washington State, who was led by CharLee Linton’s 47th place finish.
Reiter’s ninth place finish should advance her to the national championship race, marking the Eagles’ first qualifier since 2008 when Mattie Bridgmon did so.
Eagle coach Chris Shane said, "Sarah ran an exceptional race. We designed a racing plan for her and she executed it perfectly. I think she is going to represent Eastern Washington University very well at Nationals next week. Her ninth place finish is one of the highest we have had in the program. A ninth place finish at this meet is really something special and I think that she has got what it takes to go to the National meet and perform very well – I am looking forward to that."
Seattle University was 22nd with 604 points, led by Lila Rice in 101st in 22:20.
The official announcement of the thirteen teams that will advance to the national championships as at-large selections will be made Saturday at noon, pacific time at NCAA.com. The Washington women’s team is expected to be one of the 13 squads, while the Gonzaga women and WSU men must wait, along with Matthew Crichlow of the Zags, who was 18th in the men’s race.
NOTE: The sports information offices of the University of Washington, Eastern Washington, Washington State, and Gonzaga contributed to this report.