Seawolves Aim To Repeat As GNAC Indoor Champions
Alaska Anchorage's Jamie Ashcroft (left) and Central Washington's Luke Plummer look to become the first four-time individual champions in meet history.
Alaska Anchorage's Jamie Ashcroft (left) and Central Washington's Luke Plummer look to become the first four-time individual champions in meet history.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

NAMPA, Idaho – A year ago, Alaska Anchorage accomplished an unprecedented sweep of the GNAC indoor track and field titles en route to winning three of the conference’s four team track titles.

The Seawolves are poised to repeat as champions, but the repeat is far from guaranteed as the GNAC Indoor Track and Field Championships take place at the Jacksons Track at the Ford Idaho Center.

Alaska Anchorage finished with identical scores of 164 points in 2016 and surged primarily on the heels of its distance runners and the performances of standouts Karolin Anders and Joyce Chelimo. With a number of those distance performers not back, the door is open for other teams to take their shot at the team championships.

The defending champions will ride on the talents of senior Jamie Ashcroft, who looks to become the first GNAC women’s indoor four-time champion. The three-time champ in the 100 meters also hopes to reclaim her title in the 200 meters, which she lost to Seattle Pacific’s Jahzelle Ambus last year.

Helping Ashcroft in the title defense is Vanessa Aniteye and Mary Kathleen Cross, both provisional qualifiers in the 400 meters, and GNAC cross country champion Caroline Kurgat, who owns a provisional qualifying mark in the 3,000 meters. The Seawolves also own the GNAC’s top times this season in both the 4x400-meter relay and the distance medley relay.

Ashcroft is among six returning champions in this year’s meet. Simon Fraser sophomore Addy Townsend ran 2:11.54 as a freshman to win the 800 meters and has already surpassed that with a 2:10.57 earlier this month. Townsend paces a Simon Fraser team hoping to dethrone UAA with four GNAC event leaders and 22 NCAA Championships qualifiers.

Other members of the Clan who lead the conference entering the meet include Chantel Desch in the 400 meters, Paige Nock in the mile (an event where the top four are SFU runners) and Ella Brown in the triple jump. Simon Fraser is also the defending champion in both relays.

Concordia returns two champions in three events. McKenzie Warren will try to defend her shot put and weight throw titles, but it is the shot put where she will shine. Warren set the Division II record in the event at last week’s Husky Classic at 57 feet, 9.75 inches. The mark is fifth in the United States and No. 15 in the world.

Tori Johnson is Concordia’s other returning champion, capturing the title as a freshman at 5 feet, 7.25 inches. Johnson already sits behind a NCAA Championships provisional qualifier in Seattle Pacific’s Geneva Lehnert, who placed third last year. Christina MacDonald, second to Warren in the weight throw last year, is the favorite to win it this year.

The Falcons are hungry to return to the top of the podium after a one-year absence. Michaella Kahns is SFU’s lone returning champion and enters as the top competitor in the pole vault. Kahns provisionally qualified for nationals in the pole vault with a mark of 11 feet, 10.75 inches in Seattle last weekend.

Seattle Pacific’s chances are further helped by Kyra Brannan, who has the conference’s top mark in the long jump (18-6.5), and freshman Lani Taylor, who is among four GNAC provisional qualifiers in the 400 meters. In the distances, Mary Charleson and Sarah Macdonald will provide points in the mile and 3,000 meters. Lehnert leads the GNAC in the high jump with her provisional qualifying mark of 5 feet, 5.75 inches.

Sophomore Mariyah Vongsaveng is Central Washington’s returning champion. She came out on top of the closest race in GNAC history when the top-three in last year’s 60-meter hurdles were divided by three-thousandths of a second. Vongsaveng has run 8.70 seconds this season, the 19th best time in Division II. HarLee Ortega enters as the GNAC leader in the pentathlon (3,348 points) while Aiyana Homer will be in the mix in both the shot put and weight throw.

Shannon Porter will aim to give Saint Martin’s it’s first GNAC women’s indoor champion. The senior automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships with a time of 16:29.89 in the 5,000 meters at the Husky Classic and is provisionally qualified in the 3,000 meters. Western Oregon’s Kennedy Rufener will also challenge in the 5,000 meters, entering the meet with a provisional qualifying time of 17:24.07.

If Alaska Anchorage is to repeat on the men’s side, they will need a big assist once again from the distance runners, who accounted for 75 of the Seawolves’ 164 points last year.

Senior Dominik Notz is back to do his part. The defending champion in both the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters is automatically qualified for nationals in the latter, having run 14:03.95 at the Husky Classic last weekend. Notz has the GNAC’s top time in the 3,000, with his time of 8:11.10 ranking 11th in Division II.

Edwin Kangogo returns from last year’s scoring barrage having provisionally qualified in both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters. The Seawolves also have a solid one-two punch in the 400 meters in Adam Commandeur and Liam Lindsay. Travis Turner finished as the runner-up in last year’s heptathlon. He enters this year’s meet with the GNAC’s second best point total (4,951).

The UAA distance runners will be well challenged, particularly by Western Oregon’s David Ribich. The junior has automatically qualified for nationals in the mile with a GNAC record time of 4:02.30. He also owns the conference’s best time in the 800 meters (1:50.49). His teammate, Josh Dempsey, is right behind in the 800 with a best of 1:50.70.

Both Ribich and Webster play a role in the Wolves’ GNAC record-holding distance medley relay team. The quartet ran 9:45.45 at January’s UW Invitational, a mark that continues to lead Division II.

Simon Fraser is expected to mount a decent run for the team title as well, thanks in part to two returning two-time champions. Joel Webster has won the last two 400-meter indoor titles and has provisionally qualified for nationals with a time of 48.71 seconds, but he trails two teammates in Daniel Kelloway (47.95) and Vladislav Tsygankov (48.15). In addition to his 400-meter prowess, Tsygankov is the two-time defending champ in the long jump and took the GNAC lead at 23 feet, 2.5 inches last weekend.

The Clan will be further bolstered by Carlos Vargas, who is second in the GNAC in the mile (4:11.52), and Sean Miller, who ranks second in the 5,000 meters (14:37.59).

Northwest Nazarene’s Payton Lewis is the defending champion in both the pole vault and heptathlon, but will not compete in the multi-event discipline this year. Lewis has automatically qualified for nationals in the pole vault with a mark of 17 feet, 4.5 inches, which is just a half-inch short of the GNAC record. Lewis also has the GNAC top mark in the 60-meter hurdles at 8.36 seconds.

The Crusaders have a total of three vaulters in the conference’s top five, including Jared Webster, who sits second at 15 feet, 11 inches. Cole Hoberg sits second in the high jump with a provisional qualifier of 6 feet, 9.75 inches, while Isaac Mitchell is second in the 5,000 meters with a provisional qualifying time of 14:34.93.

Central Washington’s Luke Plummer stands to become the first four-time GNAC indoor men’s champion in the triple jump. The senior enters the meet with a best of 49 feet, 3 inches, more than three feet better the second place athlete, teammate Zach Whittaker. Kodiak Landis enters the meet for the Wildcats with the GNAC’s best marks and provisional qualifiers in both the 60 meters (6.83 seconds) and the heptathlon (5,143 points).

The Wildcats’ Armando Tafoya enters with the conference’s top mark in the weight throw (57-2.25) while Western Washington’s Brandon Pless is the leader in the shot put (52-0.5). The Vikings’ Gordon Kordas also has a shot to compete in the pole vault with a season best of 15 feet, 9.25 inches, which ranks third in the GNAC.