Vikings Picked To Repeat In Both XC Polls

Thursday, August 24, 2023
by Evan O'Kelly

 PORTLAND, Ore. – Reigning Great Northwest Athletic Conference champion Western Washington was unanimously picked to defend its cross country titles on both the women’s and men’s sides, as the conference office unveiled the 2023 preseason coaches polls on Thursday.

WWU claimed all 10 first-place votes in the women’s poll and men’s poll, marking the first time since the 2012 season that one school (Alaska Anchorage) received the maximum possible point total in the preseason rankings. It is the second straight season that a school was picked to sweep the titles, after Simon Fraser topped both the men’s and women’s preseason poll in 2022.

Rank Team (First Place Votes) 2022 GNAC Finish
1. Western Washington (10) 1st (64 pts.) 100
2. Simon Fraser 3rd (86 pts.) 86
3. Saint Martin's 2nd (78 pts.) 77
4. Alaska 5th (91 pts.) 73
5. Western Oregon 4th (87 pts.) 67
6. Seattle Pacific 6th (149 pts.) 44
7. Alaska Anchorage 7th (163 pts.) 42
8. Northwest Nazarene 9th (242 pts.) 27
9. Montana State Billings 8th (224 pts.) 25
10. Central Washington 10th (261 pts.) 12
Points awarded on 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.


The reigning GNAC champions and sixth-place finishers at the 2022 NCAA West Region Championships, Western Washington welcomes back a deep core of returners from last year’s title team. Juniors Mia Crocker and Sophie Wright finished seventh and eighth, respectively, at last year’s conference meet to earn all-GNAC recognition. After taking 11th at the GNAC Championships, Newcomer of the Year Meaera Shannon raced her way to 32nd place on the regional stage. WWU will also get a boost from Ila Davis, who finished 14th at the 2021 GNAC Championships before missing last season with an injury.

The list doesn’t stop there for the Vikings, who return seven more athletes who competed at last year’s conference meet and seven total who ran in the regional meet. WWU brings in a group of four Washingtonians to comprise this year’s freshman class.

Also bringing back a stacked roster for the 2023 season, Simon Fraser figures to be another top finisher after taking third place in the conference meet a season ago. Senior Grace Chalk will pave the way after earning all-region with a 13th-place finish at the regional championship in 2022. Joining Chalk, who finished 10th at the GNAC Championships, are three more top-30 conference finishers in Charlotte Prangley (16th), Milena Kalisch (19th), and Ella Marion (26th). Kate Cameron will be another key factor for WWU after finishing in 78th at the regional championships last fall.

Freshman Gemma Dumas is the lone newcomer for veteran head coach Brit Townsend’s crew, which was slated second in this year’s preseason coaches poll. One of the league’s longest tenured coaches, Townsend has been in charge of the cross country and track and field programs in Burnaby for more than three decades.

The 2022 championship meet was a historic one for the Saint Martin’s women, whose runner-up finish was the school’s highest ever and just the second time since the conference was formed in 2001 that the Saints finished in the upper half. Seniors Cassidy Walchak-Sloan and Sara Sabra played a big part in the results, finishing sixth and ninth, respectively at the 2022 championships. Although the Saints lost Alauna Carstens, who finished 74th at the NCAA Championships, they were picked to finish third in the preseason coaches poll.

Upperclassmen Alisha Saucedo, Naomi Hartley and Kya Ramirez each return with GNAC Championships experience under their belts. The Saints will also add Lincoln Memorial University transfer Elke Wijkmans and Yakima, Wash., freshman Sherlyn Perales to complete their roster this fall.

Reigning All-American and GNAC champion Kendall Kramer is back for the Alaska women, who were projected fourth in the preseason coaches poll. In addition to earning GNAC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year and standing as the conference’s top finisher at the national championships, Kramer finished as the regional championship runner-up. Fellow junior Naomi Bailey is back as well, after crossing the finish line in tandem with Kramer at last year’s GNAC Championships. Bailey then won the regional meet, before placing 90th at the NCAA Championships.

Rosie Fordham is the third returning Nanook who competed at all three postseason meets last year, placing fourth at the GNAC Championships and the regionals, and 43rd at the national championship meet. Delainey Zock returns for her junior year after competing in both the conference and regional meets, and Teegan Silva brings Alaska further depth. Two incoming freshmen and junior Sarah Baum will look to fill out a roster that has as much potential as any of the conference’s schools on the national stage.

After placing fourth at the 2022 GNAC Championships, the Western Oregon women are projected to remain in the middle of the pack with a fifth-place nod in the preseason coaches poll. WOU welcomes back all-conference senior Caitlin Heldt, who took third at the GNAC meet and 12th at the regional championships a season ago. Sophomore Riley Smith is back after placing 13th at the GNAC Championships, and Katie Chapman is another key returner after a 51st-place finish at the regional meet last year.

Four newcomers to the Wolves’ roster along with three more returners who competed at last year’s conference meet will complete the squad for first-year head coach and alumnus Zach Holloway.

Seattle Pacific’s women’s squad will look to close the gap and jump into the upper half of the conference this season, after being projected to finish sixth in the preseason poll. The Falcons return five runners who competed in last year’s conference meet with Annika Esvelt being the top veteran after taking 18th place. Matise Mulch was also in the top-30 at last year’s conference meet (28th) and was SPU’s top finisher at the regional meet coming in 59th place. A pair of newcomers join an overall youthful roster that features just two upperclassmen.

Alaska Anchorage, which was picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll, will rely on six returners who gained experience at last year’s conference meet. Sophomores Elle Stevens (32nd) and Jordan Strausbaugh (33rd) along with senior Tressa Wood (37th) will lead the way for UAA. Seniors Sofija Spaic (44th) and Monica Ruelas (48th) and sophomore Aunika Miller (52nd) give the 2023 conference meet hosts further depth.

Although she did not compete in cross country last season, junior Nell Baker could be one of the top performers in the league this year after getting onto the podium in the 10,000 meters at the 2023 GNAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Projected eighth in the preseason poll on the women’s side is Northwest Nazarene, a step up from the Nighthawks’ ninth-place finish at last year’s conference meet. NNU’s top returner is Morgan Erler, who burst onto the scene with a 14th-place conference finish and 63rd-place regional finish as a freshman in 2022. Emily McMahon (56th), Olivia Klein (59th), and Keelin Stewart (63rd) are the Nighthawks’ other returners from last year’s conference championship. NNU will look to a hefty class of six incoming freshmen to help it ascend the conference rankings this season.

Montana State Billings said goodbye to their top runner in fifth-year senior Kailee Stoppel, who crossed the line 25th at the 2022 GNAC Championships. The Yellowjackets return senior Aspen Tolman (69th), junior Madeline Severson (60th), and sophomores Carey Berendsen (54th) and Alahna Lien (55th) who all competed at the conference championships last year. MSUB was picked ninth in the preseason poll, after finishing eighth at the conference meet last fall.

Completing the women’s rankings in 10th place was Central Washington, which returns three runners who competed at both the conference and regional meets in junior Rosie Melville, senior Zoie Mastin, and junior Tailer Cochran. Sophomores Olivia Wyatt and Lauren Thompson and juniors Kelli Heim and Madison Thompson make it seven total Wildcat returners who have experience competing at the GNAC Championships.

Rank Team (First Place Votes) 2022 GNAC Finish
1. Western Washington (10) 1st (31 pts.) 100
2. Simon Fraser 2nd (52 pts.) 89
3. Alaska Anchorage 3rd (83 pts.) 76
4. Western Oregon 4th (115 pts.) 73
5. Saint Martin's 5th (133 pts.) 59
T6. Montana State Billings 6th (163 pts.) 42
T6. Northwest Nazarene 9th (239 pts.) 42
8. Seattle Pacific 8th (228 pts.) 34
9. Central Washington 7th (182 pts.) 22
10. Alaska 10th (285 pts.) 14
Points awarded on 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.


Western Washington led the way for the GNAC in 2022, placing 14th at the NCAA Championships after finishing as the Division II West Region Championships runner-up. Senior Andrew Oslin headlines the Vikings’ cast of returners, after finishing 65th at the NCAA Championships and earning both all-region and all-conference accolades. Juniors Ryan Clough and Jeret Gillingham were each also all-region and all-conference last season, and finished 88th and 95th at the NCAA Championships, respectively. Jalen Javurek and Drew Weber make it six returning Viking men who competed at last year’s conference meet.

Portland State transfer Sam Lingwall projects to add depth to the hefty WWU lineup, while three other Viking newcomers are set to compete this fall as well. With the retirement of long-time head coach Pee Wee Halsell, a new era of leadership begins at WWU with head coaches Ben Stensland and T.J. Garlatz.

Simon Fraser was the other GNAC school to place as a team at the 2022 NCAA Championships, finishing in 19th place. The Red Leafs said goodbye to the conference’s second-best finisher at the national meet – Charlie Dannatt, 15th – but return four runners who finished in the top-20 at last year’s conference championships. Senior Sebastian Brinkman crossed the line fifth at the conference meet, before finishing 12th at the regional and 42nd at the NCAA Championships. Juniors Scott Arndt and Aiden Good finished 11th and 16th, respectively, at the GNAC Championships and senior Ephrem Mekonnen took 18th. Overall the Red Leafs have six returners with conference meet experience.

University of British Columbia transfer Jacob Wadhwani joins a cast of three freshmen to comprise Simon Fraser’s group of newcomers.

Behind the strength of GNAC Male Scholar Athlete of the Year Coleman Nash, Alaska Anchorage checked in at third on the preseason coaches poll. Nash cruised to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2022, after winning the GNAC individual title with a time of 23:46 to claim the GNAC Athlete of the Year honor. Reigning GNAC Newcomer of the Year Michael Zapherson will look to build off a strong first season with the Seawolves in which he finished sixth at the conference championships, seventh at the regionals and 55th at the NCAA Championships. UAA also returns sophomores Ries Tveit and Stephen Zukowski, who competed at the conference championships in 2022.

Three senior transfers give the Seawolves the upper leg when it comes to experience, as Wyatt Matyas (Vermont), Zach Kohler (Saint Francis) and George Payne (Tennessee – Martin) figure to contribute valuable times right away. The Seawolves play host to the GNAC Championships, which are slated for Oct. 21 at Kincaid Park in Anchorage.

Newly minted Western Oregon head coach Zach Holloway – a 2016 graduate and alumnus of the program – carries a roster of five returners and four newcomers into the 2023 campaign. Kolby Spink is among the Wolves’ top returners after placing 78th at the regional championships in 2022. Easton Pomrankey, Logan Parker, Dustyn Mckenney, and Keeton Sanchez each also competed at the conference championship meet, packing up effectively to give the Wolves a fourth-place team finish a season ago. Four local freshmen will round out the WOU squad, which was slated fourth in the preseason coaches poll.

The Saint Martin’s men’s cross country program will look to keep on the rise in 2023, after finishing in the top half in fifth place at the 2022 GNAC Championships. Senior Isaac Cortes led the way with a 12th-place finish at last year’s conference meet, while junior Kainalu Pagente, senior Michael Harwell (32nd) and sophomore Elijah Dale (43rd) were key contributors a season ago. Jaskaran Dhatt also returns after competing at the 2022 GNAC Championships, giving the Saints five runners with experience at the conference meet.

Four freshmen from Washington comprise the newcomer list for second-year head coach Matt Lowe, as the Saints enter the 2023 campaign slated fifth in the preseason poll.

Montana State Billings will count on four returners with experience at the conference championships to build its core in 2023, as the Yellowjackets tied for sixth in the preseason poll. Senior Bryant Edgerton took 38th at the conference meet last season, before finishing 62nd at the regional championship meet to lead the team. Sophomore Wyatt May and juniors Jordi Peiro and Jackson Bailey are MSUB’s other returners with conference experience, and the ‘Jackets are set to welcome hometown freshman Andrew Rush to the roster this fall. The ‘Jackets will have big shoes to fill with the departure of Ase Ackerman, who led the team with a 15th-place finish at the GNAC Championships in 2022.

Matching the Yellowjackets in the preseason poll were the Nighthawks of Northwest Nazarene, who also received 42 points for a share of sixth place. Youth is on NNU’s side with sophomores Brody Kemble and Quincy Ellis headlining the team’s list of returners. Kemble placed 27th at the conference meet and 67th at the regional, while Ellis followed in 42nd at the conference meet and 91st in the region. Fellow sophomores Aaron Heberlein and Josh Lady also return with experience at the conference meet.

Head coach Danny Bowman brings in the most young firepower in the conference with seven true freshmen set to compete for the first time as Nighthawks in 2023.

Seattle Pacific, which was slated to finish eighth in the preseason poll, will also rely on young returning talent in the form of sophomores Nathaniel Gale and Isaac Venable. Gale placed 62nd at last year’s conference championships, while Venable followed in 69th. Freshmen Silas Demmert and Jonathan Lieb are the Falcon newcomers who are projected to slot into the lineup right away in 2023.

Brand-new head coach Jonathan Hill will look to ride the experience of seven Central Washington runners who competed at the GNAC Championships in 2022, five of which went on to compete at the regional meet. Ty Savely is the Wildcats’ top returner, placing 22nd at the conference meet and 70th at regionals last fall. Four freshmen will bolster a full Central Washington roster, that will look to turn heads after being picked ninth in the preseason poll.

Nolan Earnest is the lone returning senior for an Alaska team that is projected to finish 10th after occupying that spot at last year’s championships. Sophomores Ryan Owens and Josh Baurick and junior Koen Ross are the other Nanooks returning to the lineup who competed at last year’s conference meet. Alaska will expect Vassar transfer Finn Morley along with three incoming freshmen to assist in the climb up the conference rankings in 2023.

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