Simon Fraser Targets Title Defense At GNAC Championships
Charlie Dannatt (left) and Kate Cameron are the top returning finishers from the 2021 GNAC Championships for Simon Fraser.
Charlie Dannatt (left) and Kate Cameron are the top returning finishers from the 2021 GNAC Championships for Simon Fraser.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

MONMOUTH, Ore. – Simon Fraser wants to defend its crowns. Western Washington wants to take them back and several runners will be in the hunt for the individual trophy.

It is shaping up to be a competitive day when the GNAC Cross Country Championships take place Saturday at Western Oregon University’s Ash Creek Preserve. While Simon Fraser is the defending men’s and women’s champions, a repeat is far from certain.

The Red Leafs women placed all five scoring runners in the top 10 to score 32 points and waltzed away with the title over Western Washington. The men’s race was much closer with SFU scoring the five-point victory over the Vikings thanks to Aaron Ahl’s championship and Charlie Dannatt’s third-place finish.

Western Washington swept the titles in 2019 and appears well-positioned to do it again in 2022. The Vikings were the top GNAC men’s and women’s teams at the Division II Pre-Nationals, which served as a de facto conference meet preview. The men finished 31 points clear of SFU while the women were just four points ahead.

With the graduation of Ahl and Olivia Willett, new individual champions will be crowned. Alaska Anchorage’s Coleman Nash and Dannatt return after placing second and third in last year’s men’s race. A trio of talented Alaska sophomores leads a bevy of women with eyes on the individual prize.

Simon Fraser returns four of its five scoring runners from last year and six of their varsity seven. Dannatt placed third last year, 10 seconds behind Nash, while sophomore Scott Arndt finished ninth. Junior Ephrem Mekonnen and sophomore Aiden Good rounded out the top five.

This season, the Red Leafs notched a perfect 15-point score against a strong West Region field at the San Francisco State Invitational and placed sixth at Pre-Nationals. Dannatt won at San Francisco State and was the No. 2 GNAC finisher at Pre-Nationals in sixth place.

Simon Fraser opened the season on the Ash Creek course, beating Division I Portland to win the Ash Creek Invitational, and is one of two GNAC teams to have raced on the course this season.

Western Washington opened the year with a 15-point score of its own at the CWU Invitational. The Vikings won their own Bill Roe Classic, placed third at the Lewis Crossover and fourth at Pre-Nationals. They have not lost to a conference team this season.

Sophomore Jeret Gillingham placed eighth at last year’s conference meet. He won the CWU Invitational, was top 10 at Bill Roe and top 20 at the Lewis Crossover. Sophomore Kevin McDermott placed seventh at the Lewis Crossover as he and Gillingham ran lifetime-best times in the meet. The Vikings also return four of their top five from last year, including junior Alex Ritter and sophomore Jalen Javurek.

Nash leads the contenders for the individual title. The Alaska Anchorage sophomore placed second in last year’s meet and went to place fifth at regionals and 27th at the Division II Championships to earn All-American honors. Nash has two firsts, a second and a fourth-place finish this season and was the conference’s top placer at Pre-Nationals.

The Seawolves were third among conference teams at Pre-Nationals and are bolstered by junior transfer Michael Zapherson, who placed 25th at Pre-Nationals, and senior Jesus Avalos.

Homestanding Western Oregon finished third at last year’s conference meet and was not far behind Alaska Anchorage as the No. 4 GNAC team at Pre-Nationals. The team is paced by junior Hunter Hutton, who won the season-opening Ash Creek Invitational, and senior Bailey Smith, who was third at the Mike Johnson Classic.

Senior Miguel Villar, who placed 10th at last year’s conference meet, is listed among the Wolves’ projected runners but has yet to race this season.

Montana State Billings boasts an individual title contender in senior Ase Ackerman, who placed 16th last year and was 28th at Pre-Nationals to rank sixth among all conference finishers in the meet. The Yellowjackets hope to build on last year’s fifth-place finish with an experienced team that includes senior Logan Straus and junior Bryant Edgerton.

Saint Martin’s has exhibited considerable improvement this season after placing eighth at conference last year. Sophomores Isaac Cortes and Kainalu Pagente have led the resurgence, which included a fourth-place team finish at the San Francisco State Invitational where both runners ran lifetime best times. The Saints also return senior Jack Farrell, who placed eighth last year.

Central Washington will be led by juniors Shawn Clough and Ty Savely, who have paced the Wildcats as season-long No. 1 and No. 2 runners. Seattle Pacific is led by its only upperclassman in junior Brennan Le Blanc, who has three top-30 finishes this season.

Northwest Nazarene’s young lineup is led by freshman Brody Kemble, was ran a lifetime best at 8,000 meters at Pre-Nationals. Alaska will be led by sophomores Koen Ross and Nolan Earnest, two of three returners who competed at last year’s meet.

While Simon Fraser won last year’s conference title convincingly, the team will rely on a new mix of athletes for the repeat bid in 2022.

The Red Leafs return three runners who finished in the top 10 in sophomore Kate Cameron, who placed sixth, junior Megan Roxby, who placed eighth, and senior Emily Chilton, who placed 10th. Roxby has three top-10 finishes to her credit this season. Chilton led SFU with a 14th-place finish at the San Francisco State Invitational last month.

Junior Grace Chalk has assumed the mantle of No. 1 runner for Simon Fraser after running as the No. 8 runner at last year’s conference meet. Chalk used a lifetime best time over 6,000 meters to place 22nd at Pre-Nationals, leading SFU and finishing sixth among GNAC runners.

What Western Washington doesn’t have in speed it makes up in team running. The Vikings led GNAC teams with an eighth-place finish at Pre-Nationals thanks to just a 35-second gap between the scoring five runners.

Sophomore Ila Davis is the Vikings’ top returning finisher from last year’s conference meet, placing 14th, but has yet to compete this season. Sophomores Mia Crocker and Sophie Wright have shared lead honors this season. Crocker led the Vikings at Pre-Nationals while Wright placed third at the CWU Invitational and fourth at the Bill Roe Classic.

Alaska shocked the conference and the region last year as its fast three freshmen bolted to a third-place finish. This year, they have only put both on notice this season as sophomores. Kendall Kramer has two wins this season and placed sixth at Pre-Nationals. Rosie Fordham, last year’s GNAC runner-up, placed 18th while Naomi Bailey won Pre-Nationals by an impressive nine seconds.

The Nanooks, whose trio finished 2-3-4 at last year’s conference meet, was one of only two teams to place three or more runners in the Pre-Nationals top 20. No. 3 ranked Colorado Mines was the other.

Western Oregon placed fourth at last year’s GNAC Championships and was fourth among conference teams at Pre-Nationals. Senior Caitlin Heldt led the way in 21st place at Pre-Nationals while freshman Holly Hutton has two top-10 finishes to her credit this season. Senior Luz Garcia leads WOU returners after placing fifth at last year’s conference meet but has not finished a race yet this season.

Saint Martin’s is poised to move up in the final standings thanks in part to Alauna Carstens. The freshman was the top GNAC finisher at the San Francisco State Invitational and placed 11th at Pre-Nationals, trailing only the Nanooks’ trio in terms of GNAC runners. Sophomores Cassidy Walchak-Sloan and Sara Sabra, the Saints’ top returning conference placers, return to provide the team a solid top three.

Seattle Pacific’s young lineup is led by sophomore Annika Esvelt, who placed ninth last year and was the Falcons’ top finisher at Pre-Nationals. Sophomore Libby Michael has performed well in her injury-free season while freshmen Katelyn Flolo and Matise Mulch set the base for the future of the program.

Alaska Anchorage is led by senior Alfin Nyamasyo, who is one of three returning UAA runners from last year’s meet. Her performance will be bolstered by freshmen Elle Stevens and Jordan Strausbaugh.

Montana State Billings will be paced by seniors Kailee Stoppel and Ally Whitmer. Stoppel led MSUB with a 24th-place finish last year. Central Washington pins its hopes on sophomore Rose Melville, who led the team in three of five meets this season, and sophomore Zoie Mastin, who paced the Wildcats at Pre-Nationals.

Northwest Nazarene’s young squad is led by freshman Morgan Erler, who opened her career with a top-15 finish at the EOU Open.