National Champions Share Outdoor Track Special Awards
Drake (left) won her second national title in the javelin. Lewis (center) won his first in the pole vault and Ribich won his first in the 1,500 meters.
Drake (left) won her second national title in the javelin. Lewis (center) won his first in the pole vault and Ribich won his first in the 1,500 meters.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – The conference’s three NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field national champions will split the league’s top honor as Western Washington’s Bethany Drake, Northwest Nazarene’s Payton Lewis and Western Oregon’s David Ribich have earned the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s 2017 Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year awards.

Drake was named by conference coaches as the Female Athlete of the Year for the second straight season after she collected her second national title and third All-American trophy in the women’s javelin. Ranked No. 2 in Division II entering the meet, Drake won the championship by over 12 feet with a mark of 169 feet, 11 inches. The performance capped a season that saw Drake win the GNAC championship with a conference record mark of 171 feet, 11.25 inches and career that saw her win two national titles (2014 & 2017) and compete in four national meets.

Lewis and Ribich share the Male Athlete of the Year honors after both athletes won national championships. Lewis captured the Division II title in the pole vault with a NNU record clearance of 17 feet, 7 inches, a mark that is No. 2 on the GNAC all-time list. He was named the GNAC Championships Male Athlete of the Meet after he won the pole vault and decathlon and placed second in the 110-meter hurdles. It was Lewis’ third straight conference title in the pole vault and his second in the decathlon. His score of 6,815 points in the GNAC decathlon is No. 3 on the league’s all-time list.

Ribich, meanwhile, carried the top time in Division II in the 1,500 meters into a national title, edging out Chico State’s Kyle Medina for the win with a time of 3:49.64. The junior was ranked No. 1 in the event from April 1 through the national meet with a GNAC and WOU record time of 3:41.45. At the GNAC Championships, Ribich earned his third conference title in the metric mile with a meet record time of 3:47.37 and also won the 800 meters with a time of 1:52.71.

Ribich’s teammate and fellow 1,500-meter All-American, Dustin Nading, was named as the Male Newcomer of the Year, completing an unprecedented sweep of the awards in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. Nading placed sixth at the Division II Championships in a time of 3:51.50. At the GNAC Championships, Nading was second to Ribich in the 1,500 meters with a time of 3:47.63 and placed fifth in the 5,000 meters in a time of 15:34.79. Nading’s season best of 3:47.17 is No. 6 on the GNAC all-time list.

Central Washington’s Emily Bland was voted as the Female Newcomer of the Year after racing to a GNAC championship in the 400-meter hurdles. Bland won with a CWU record time of 1:00.58, which qualified her for the NCAA Championships where she placed 14th. The performance is No. 4 on the GNAC all-time list. Bland also finished fifth at the GNAC Championships in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.11 seconds and ran as part of Central Washington’s school record-setting 4x400-meter relay team.

Caleb Bridge of Concordia was named as the Male Freshman of Year after a season that saw him win GNAC championships in both the discus and shot put. He easily won the discus title with a meet record mark of 176 feet, 6.5 inches, and won the shot put with a mark of 54 feet, 4.75 inches. Bridge set the GNAC record in the discus with a mark of 182 feet, 8 inches, which ranked as the sixth best mark in Division II and would have automatically qualified for the national meet (Concordia was not eligible due to its transition from NAIA to NCAA membership). His shot put best of 57 feet, 3 inches, is No. 4 on the GNAC all-time list.

Alaska Anchorage’s Vanessa Aniteye was selected as the Female Freshman of the Year after qualifying for the national meet and winning the GNAC championship in the 400 meters. Aniteye claimed the conference title with a season-best time of 54.88 seconds and ranked No. 6 on the GNAC all-time list and 17th in Division II this season. She went on to place 20th in the 400 at the national meet. Aniteye was also part of the UAA 4x400-meter relay teams that set a GNAC record with a time of 3:41.93 and placed 10th at the NCAA Championships.

Seawolves’ head coach Michael Friess was named both the Men’s & Women’s Coach of the Year. Friess led both the UAA men’s and women’s outdoor track and field programs to conference championships. The men claimed their second consecutive title while the women won for the first time since 2014. Alaska Anchorage led the GNAC with 13 participants at the NCAA Championships with the UAA men leading conference teams with a 13th place finish. This is the sixth and seventh GNAC Outdoor Track Coach of the Year awards for Friess.

Athlete of the Year: Payton Lewis, Northwest Nazarene & David Ribich, Western Oregon
Newcomer of the Year: Dustin Nading, Western Oregon
Freshman of the Year: Caleb Bridge, Concordia
Coach of the Year: Michael Friess, Alaska Anchorage

Athlete of the Year: Bethany Drake, Western Washington
Newcomer of the Year: Emily Bland, Central Washington
Freshman of the Year: Vanessa Aniteye, Alaska Anchorage
Coach of the Year: Michael Friess, Alaska Anchorage