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Located in five states and the Canadian province of British Columbia and with a strong presence in or near the largest city of each, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has established itself as one of the top NCAA Division II athletic conferences in the nation during its 19-year history.

Founded in July 2001, GNAC teams have had over 100 NCAA Division II Top-10 national team finishes in 15 of the 17 sports that it sponsors.

During the 2019-20 year, the GNAC saw 14 teams qualify for NCAA postseason competition. The postseason parade was led by Western Washington, which won an unprecedented five conference championships during the fall.

The Vikings’ charge was led by the women’s soccer program, which advanced to the NCAA Championships semifinals for the third time in the last six years. After outscoring opponents 8-0 through the first five rounds of the tournament, the Vikings fell to Grand Valley State in double overtime, 1-0, in the national championship match in Pittsburgh.

Western Washington’s men’s soccer program advanced to postseason play for the first time since 2016. The volleyball program, meanwhile, led three GNAC programs to qualify for the NCAA Championship. Joining the Vikings at the regional were Alaska Anchorage and Central Washington.

While Western Washington swept the GNAC cross country titles, the conference saw an unprecedented five teams qualify to compete at the NCAA Championships. The Northwest Nazarene women’s program led the way as it came from out of nowhere to place second at the West Regional to earn the program’s first-ever NCAA invitation.

Individually, Alaska Anchorage’s Emmah Chelimo repeated as both GNAC and West Region champion. She went on to place fifth at the NCAA Championships and led the Seawolves to an eighth-place team finish. Nancy Jeptoo also earned All-American honors for UAA, placing 10th.

The GNAC saw two men’s basketball teams (Seattle Pacific and Western Washington) and two women’s programs (Alaska Anchorage and Northwest Nazarene) advance to regional competition before the 2019-20 season was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the conference’s 19-year history, GNAC teams have won four national championships. Former GNAC member Seattle University won the 2004 NCAA Division II men’s soccer national title before moving up to the Division I level. Seattle Pacific won the 2008 national championship in women’s soccer and was the national runner-up in 2005. The Vikings’ men’s basketball program claimed the 2012 Division II national title. Western Washington’s women’s soccer program won a national title in 2016.

Also earning second-place national finishes have been Seattle Pacific in women’s soccer (2005), women’s basketball (2005) and women’s cross country (2007), Western Washington in volleyball (2007 & 2018) and women’s soccer (2019).

Over its history, the GNAC has also been successful academically. Conference student-athletes have won winning 107 CoSIDA Academic All-American awards.  Thirteen of those came during the 2019-20 academic year.

Two GNAC student-athletes received First Team Academic All-American honors. Montana State Billings’ Amanda Hemmen earned First Team Women’s Soccer Academic All-American honors for the second consecutive year while Central Oklahoma rower Bailee Thomas earned first-team honors on the At-Large Team. The two give the GNAC a total of 29 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-Americans, which honor both academic and athletic achievement.

Over the last two seasons, three GNAC student-athletes have been named winners of the prestigious NCAA Elite 90 Award, which honors the athlete at each national championship site with the highest cumulative GPA. Western Oregon's Tyler Jones and Central Washington's Alexa Shindruk swept the awards at the 2018 Division II Cross Country Championships. Alaska Anchorage's Yvonne Jeschke received the award at the 2019 Division II Cross Country Championships.

During the 2019-20 academic year, 86 percent of the conference’s 125 competing teams posted cumulative grade point averages of 3.00 or higher. Three GNAC schools had all of its teams surpass the 3.00 threshold: Concordia, Saint Martin's and Seattle Pacific.

The GNAC’s 10 full-time members are located in one of the most picturesque areas of North America, covering five U.S. states and one Canadian province.

Representing the Evergreen State in the conference are Central Washington University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University. All four schools are within 110 miles of Seattle, the state’s largest city.

Alaska is the home to GNAC members University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The only Canadian member in the NCAA is Simon Fraser University, which is located in Burnaby, B.C., a suburb of Canada's third-largest city, Vancouver.

Other conference members include Western Oregon University, which is a short drive from both the capital of Oregon (Salem) and the state’s largest city (Portland); Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, which is located near Idaho’s largest city and capital (Boise), and Montana State University Billings which is situated in the largest city in the Treasure State.

The GNAC also has a presence in California with Azusa Pacific as an affiliate member in football and Humboldt State as an affiliate member in women’s rowing. Sitting outside the general conference footprint, the University of Central Oklahoma joined the GNAC in 2019 as an affiliate member in women’s rowing.

Humboldt State and Seattle University were charter members of the conference.  Humboldt left the GNAC following the 2005-06 season to join the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) and was an affiliate member in football until 2018. The Lumberjacks retained their GNAC membership by rejoining an affiliate member in women’s rowing in 2019. Seattle University departed following the 2007-08 season to compete in NCAA Division I.

Concordia University-Portland joined the GNAC in 2014 and was recognized as a full NCAA Division II member in 2017. Concordia closed following the 2019-20 academic year.