Conference Teams Poised To Perform Well In Monmouth
James Jasperson led a fourth through seventh-place sweep for the Western Washington men at the GNAC Championships on Oct. 26. Photo by Jenna Martin.
James Jasperson led a fourth through seventh-place sweep for the Western Washington men at the GNAC Championships on Oct. 26. Photo by Jenna Martin.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

MONMOUTH, Ore. – For the third time in five years, the West Region’s cross country runners will gather at Western Oregon University to determine who will qualify for the NCAA Division II Championships.

The NCAA West Region Cross Country Championships will take place on Saturday at the Ash Creek Preserve in Monmouth. A very familiar course for GNAC teams, they hope that the familiarity of Oregon’s only dedicated cross country course will help conference runners perform well in the quest for a nationals berth.

Conference teams are coming off an exciting GNAC Cross Country Championships on Oct. 26 where athletes navigated through two inches of snow at Amend Park in Billings, Montana. While Alaska Anchorage claimed both the men’s and women’s individual titles, there was a changing of the guard in the team competition.

Western Washington’s women claimed the program’s first GNAC championship with a score of 53 points, leading a tight team competition that saw the top three teams separated by just 14 points. The victory snapped a four-year winning streak for the Seawolves, who finished second with 60 points.

The Vikings’ men, meanwhile, won the program’s first championship in 10 years with a score of 38 points. The team’s 38-point margin of victory over Simon Fraser was the largest in the GNAC Championships since 2014.

Alaska Anchorage claimed the women’s individual title for the fifth straight year as senior Emmah Chelimo defended her title with a winning time of 21:31.9 over 6,000 meters. Chelimo is also the defending West Region champion. She scored a nine-second win over teammate Nancy Jeptoo in last year’s meet with a winning time of 20:57.47. The one-two finish, coupled with placing four runners in the top-15, helped the Seawolves win the team title with 66 points.

In the men’s race at the GNAC Championships, junior Felix Kemboi gave the Seawolves their second straight individual title, and the 10th from UAA in the last 11 meets, as he covered the 8,000-meter course in 24:44. The win bodes well for Kemboi, who is the top returning finisher from last year’s regional meet after he placed second in 2018 with a time of 30:50.84 over 10,000 meters.

While individual titles win the headlines, it is grouping in the team competition that wins the big trophies. Western Washington emphatically proved that at the GNAC Championships and their ability to run as a team will be an advantage at the regional. The Vikings’ men claimed fourth through eighth place at the GNAC meet and placed all five scoring runners in the top-16. The time gap between No. 1 and No. 5 was a paltry 20 seconds.

The Vikings’ women claimed eighth through 11th place and placed all five scoring runners in the top-15 to earn the women’s championship. The women’s gap was a little larger with 26 seconds between the No. 1 and No. 5 runners.

In the women’s regional race, which starts at 10 a.m. (Pacific), the GNAC returns four of the top-10 finishers from last year’s meet. In addition to Chelimo and Jeptoo, Simon Fraser junior Olivia Willett placed fourth and Seattle Pacific senior Kate Lilly placed 10th. Lilly was the runner-up at the GNAC Championships, running 21:39.3, while Willett placed seventh in 22:22.2.

Other top finishers from the GNAC Championships who will figure into the West Region title conversation include Seattle Pacific junior Dania Holmberg (4th, 22:02.5) and Western Oregon senior Grace Knapp (5th, 22:04.3). Holmberg finished 68th at last year’s regional meet while Knapp, who will be racing on her home course for the final time in a WOU uniform, finished 34th last year.

The men’s regional championship will begin at 11:15 a.m., and the GNAC returns just two top-10 placers in Kemboi and Alaska Anchorage junior Wesley Kirui. The third-place finisher at the GNAC Championships two weeks ago, Kirui placed fifth at last year’s regional with a time of 31:04.74.

Other GNAC Championships top placers to watch include Western Oregon senior Justin Crosswhite (2nd, 24:54.1) and Vikings’ senior James Jasperson (4th, 24:54.5). Crosswhite was 77th at last year’s regional meet while Jasperson placed 35th.

THE COMPETITION: No conversation about West Region cross country is complete without Chico State. Both the Wildcats’ men and women will be title contenders and have traditionally performed well at the regional level.

The Wildcats’ men have won the last three West Region titles and six of the last seven, broken up by Alaska Anchorage’s win in 2015 on the Ash Creek Course. Chico State won the program’s 18th consecutive CCAA championship two weeks ago with a score of 33 points, bettering second-place Cal State San Marcos by 39 points. Like Western Washington in the GNAC Championships, Chico State grouped well by placing all five scoring runners in the top-15.

Likewise, the Chico State women won the program’s 12th consecutive CCAA title with a pack mentality. The Wildcats placed all five scoring runners in the top-10 to finish with 23 points, winning with a 58-point margin over Cal State East Bay.

The Chico State men won last year’s regional title with a score of 39 points. The Wildcats’ top returning regional placer is junior Wyatt Baxter, who placed eighth in a time 31:10.15 and was 14th at the 2019 CCAA Championships in 25:18.9. Trad Berti was the top Chico placer at the CCAA Championships, finishing second in 24:50.23.

Chico State’s women placed third at last year’s regional meet with 88 points, behind Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser. The Wildcats’ top returning finisher from last year is senior Desirae Jones, who placed 15th in a time of 21:42.84. At the CCAA Championships, however, Jones was the Wildcats’ No. 5 finisher as freshman Destiny Everett ran to the title in a time of 22:02.55. Chico took four of the top five places with Gracie Dupuis placed third (22:07.78), Talia Swangler placed fourth (22:14.01) and Nora Pizzella placed fifth (22:15.06).

In the PacWest Conference, newcomer Biola put on a show in the men’s race at the PacWest Championships. The Eagles placed all five scoring runners in the top-10 to run away with the title with a score of 21 points. Senior Gabe Plendcio led four Biola runners in the top-five as he claimed the individual title with a time of 25:09.8. Sophomore Brady DeHaven was second in 25:21.3, senior Ryan Thompson placed third in 25:22 and junior Angel Escobar placed fifth in 25:34.8. This will be Biola’s first Division II regional meet.

The PacWest women’s race belonged to Fresno Pacific, whose final score of 62 points was 23 points better than a second-place tie between Academy of Art and Biola (85 points). The Firebirds placed two runners in the top-10, with senior Jordan Zorn placing fourth in a time of 21:59.5. Academy of Art senior Hasna Kaarour won the individual title in a time of 21:22.9. She is the conference’s top returning regionals placer after finishing 25th in 2018.

Individuals to watch from the CCAA in the men’s race include Josh Litwiller of Cal State San Marcos, who won the conference title with a time of 24:40.28, UC San Diego’s Aren Johnson (3rd at CCAA Championships, 25:01.02), Stanislaus State’s Joseph Macareno (4th, 25:04.03) and Chico State’s Matthew Herrera (5th,25:06.25) and Jhavahn Holston (6th, 25:08.26). From the PacWest, eyes will also be on Notre Dame de Namur’s Lawson Sims (4th at PacWest Championships, 25:28.8).

Figuring into the women’s individual title conversation will be Angelina Ronquillo of Cal State East Bay (2nd at CCAA Championships, 22:04.46) and Marina McDonough of Cal State San Marcos (6th, 22:25.96). Other PacWest women to watch include Point Loma senior Zita Molnar (2nd at PacWest Championships, 21:36.4), Biola junior Mackenna Mason (3rd, 21:47.9) and Academy of Art’s Natalia Novak (22:07.5).

AWARDS & QUALIFYING: The top-25 finishers in each race will receive All-West Region honors. The top three teams in both the men’s and women’s races will qualify for the NCAA Division II Championships, which take place on Sat., Nov. 23 in Sacramento. In addition, the top two individuals who are not part of a qualifying team will automatically qualify for the national meet as well as all individuals who finish in the top-five and are not part of a qualifying team.

A total of 10 teams and eight individuals from all eight regions will receive at-large selections to the meet. Those selections will be announced by the NCAA on Mon., Nov. 11.

IN THE RANKINGS: The women’s West Regional race will feature an impressive eight teams ranked in the U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division II Coaches Poll released on October 30. While Chico State leads the way at No. 4, the next three teams are all from GNAC schools. Western Washington is ranked No. 11, Alaska Anchorage is ranked No. 13 and Seattle Pacific is No. 14.

Rounding out West Region teams in the women’s poll is Cal State East Bay at No. 16, Cal Poly Pomona at No. 21, UC San Diego at No. 23 and Stanislaus State at No. 25.

The men’s race will feature four top-25 teams, led by Chico State at No. 2. Cal State Marcos is ranked No. 16, followed by UC San Diego at No. 19 and Western Washington at No. 21. Both Cal Poly Pomona and Biola were among teams receiving votes.

NOT JUST THE DIVISION II ATHLETES: Western Oregon’s Ash Creek Preserve is developing quite the reputation as a championship-caliber cross country course. In fact, the NCAA Division II West Region Championships is the second college championship meet that the course has hosted this season after it was the site of the Pac-12 Conference Championships on Friday, Nov. 1.

The course met with positive reviews from the Division I athletes in the meet that was officially hosted by Oregon State. Colorado won the men’s title with a score of 41 points while Stanford claimed the women’s title with a score of 27 points.

In addition to the two college meets, Ash Creek hosted the PDXC Championships, the Oregon middle school championship meet, on November 3. Ash Creek hosted the GNAC Championships four times (2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018) and has hosted the West Regional meet in 2015 and 2017. The course will host the GNAC meet again in 2020 and the West Regional one more time in 2021.

"Hosting an event of a championship-caliber is what this course was designed for," Western Oregon head coach Mike Johnson said. "The width and the overall construction of the course make it possible for us to host meets from age group to international caliber level. The course elevations and size provide a great viewing experience for on-site spectators as well as for streaming and TV audiences as illustrated by the Pac-12 presentation of the championship event. Hosting seven events this fall will bring thousands of contestants and spectators to Monmouth which illustrates the economic value of championship athletic facilities."