Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Western's Sarah Porter targets national D2 harrier title Saturday in Louisville...

Western Washington University senior Sarah Porter (left/photo courtesy Western Washington University) seeks to become the school's first cross country national champion and both the Viking men's and women's teams are looking for their third straight top 10 finishes Saturday at the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Our goal is for both squads to finish in the top 10, and the men would like to get back on the podium (place among top four)," said Western coach Pee Wee Halsell, whose men are currently 10th and women 12th in their respective United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national rankings.

"But you're only as good as your fifth runner (top five are counters), so our 4-5-6-7 runners have to move up for the men and our 3-4-5-6-7 runners for the women."

Porter, who was named the West Region women's cross country athlete of the year last week by the USTFCCCA, placed second at nationals in 2009, crossing the finish line less than seven seconds behind Seattle Pacific's Jessica Pixler, who is now a grad student at Colorado.

Porter's toughest competition this year is Shippensburg junior Neely Spence, who was the national runner-up in 2008. She placed 43rd at nationals in 2009 while battling an intestinal virus. Spence recently won the Atlantic Region title for the third consecutive year.

Porter and Spence faced each other earlier this season at the Greater Louisville Classic, a preview for the national meet. Porter placed third among the 302 runners, running the 5-kilometer course in 16:58. Spence won in a course record time of 16:33. However, the national distance will be 6-kilometers, which should help Porter.

"Sarah has her work cut out for her, but if she goes into it with the same mindset she did at regionals, a national title is within her grasp," Halsell said. "If it comes down to a sprint at the end, it's going to be one heckuva race to watch."

Another All-American back for the Vikings is junior Lauren Breihof, who placed seventh at the GNAC championships and sixth at regionals. She finished 31st at nationals last year.

The Western men are led by three senior All-Americans, Jordan Welling, Bennett Grimes and Blake Medhaug. All three are four-time GNAC all-stars and Grimes is a four-time region all-star. Welling and Grimes, both two-time All-Americans, placed 2-3 at regionals two weeks ago.

Welling finished 13th at nationals in 2009 as the Vikings placed fourth, and he was 29th in 2008 when Western finished 10th. Grimes was 41st in 2008 and 43rd in 2007 when the Vikings were 11th. Medhaug placed 36th in 2008.

Completing the men's squad for Western are Nick Abraham, Eric Brill, Chip Jackson and Kyle Johnson.

"Brill is the real deal, and we need one or more of the other three to step up," Halsell said. "It's just a matter of believing in themselves because they all have the ability. They're all capable of running better than they have, and they're going to have to."

Making up the balance of the Viking women's team are Sierra Brisky, Jessica Boyer, Lacey Nation, Phoebe Hartnett, and Rachael Johnson.

Western placed third in both the men's and women's divisions at the West Regionals, which was run in three inches of snow, and each Viking squad was second at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships.

St. Martin's Spencer Hunt will also compete in the men's 10k championship race, as he was the second runner across the line whose team didn't qualify, finishing ninth in the West Regionals.

Action gets underway Saturday at 8 am pacific with the men's 10k, and the women's 6k starting at 9 am pacific.

NOTE: The NCAA, the USTFCCCA, and Western Washington University contributed to this report.

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