Friday, October 20, 2017

GNAC cross country title tilt slated for Saturday in Bellingham...

The championship season begins Saturday for Washington’s four NCAA Division II schools, as they convene in Bellingham for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship meet at Lake Padden Park, with the women’s 6k starting at 10 am, and the men’s 8k going one hour later.

The host Western Washington Vikings would love nothing better than to win a conference title on their home course, with their men’s squad having the best chance of doing so, led by Andrew Wise (left/photo by Paul Merca), who has four top-20 finishes this season, including a sixth-place performance at the WWU Classic two weeks ago over the same Lake Padden course, albeit over the longer 10k distance.

However, the road to the conference crown goes straight through defending champion Alaska Anchorage, currently ranked in the USTFCCCA national poll at number 17.

The Seawolves are led by defending conference champ Edwin Kangogo, who is the only scoring member of last year’s championship team returning, although they have two other runners who competed in the conference title battle.

Western Oregon, currently the highest ranked GNAC squad nationally at #13, and Simon Fraser are the two other schools with realistic chances to knock off Alaska Anchorage.

Wise and Seattle Pacific’s Ben Halladay are the two Washington runners with the best chances to contend for top-10 individual honors.

The women’s team title is expected to be a two-way battle between defending champs Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser, currently ranked #5 in the latest USTFCCCA coaches poll.

UAA’s Caroline Kurgat comes into the meet as the defending champion, while Simon Fraser’s Julia Howley is expected to challenge for top individual honors.

Central Washington’s Alexa Shindruk, the defending GNAC 10000m champ, along with Seattle Pacific’s Mary Charleson, Western’s Lillianna Stelling, and Saint Martin’s Yadira Lopez, could contend for top-10 finishes.

As it has been for the past few days leading up to the race, expect cool and rainy skies, and a slick course for Saturday’s races.

NOTE:  The Great Northwest Athletic Conference contributed to this report.

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