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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 16 of the 17 sports that it sponsors.

The GNAC and its teams weathered the COVID-19 pandemic well, turning in several hallmark performances through the winter and spring season. Associate member Central Oklahoma topped the list of achievements as it won its third consecutive NCAA Division II championship in women’s rowing. In its second season as a conference championship sport (and the first full season due to the pandemic), the Bronchos were ranked No. 1 all season and swept the team, Varsity 8+ and Varsity 4+ titles at the inaugural GNAC Championships in May.

Northwest Nazarene made the most of its first GNAC baseball championship, hosting the NCAA West Regional and beating conference rival Western Oregon for the first regional baseball title in conference history and the first trip to the Division II baseball finals. At the tournament, NNU senior utility player Ben Johnson was named the recipient of the Elite 90 Award, honoring the student-athlete with the highest GPA competing at each championship finals site.

The conference’s men’s golf programs dominated the region with all four competing teams qualifying for the NCAA West/South Central Regional, which was hosted by Saint Martin’s in DuPont, Washington. The Saints placed second in the regional, qualifying for the NCAA Championships along with Montana State Billings’ Garrett Woodin, who qualified as an individual.

The GNAC saw three of its softball programs qualify for conference play, led by champion Western Washington. Regular-season champion Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington also represented the conference in the postseason.

The conference’s success reaches all the way to Tokyo, where two Simon Fraser alumni will represent Canada at the Olympic Games. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is competing in her second Games in basketball while Lindsey Butterworth will compete in her first Games in track and field in the 800 meters.

In the conference’s 20-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 Alaska Anchorage in volleyball (2016) and women's basketball (2016), Seattle Pacific in women’s soccer (2005), women’s basketball (2005) and women’s cross country (2007); and 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 over 110 CoSIDA Academic All-American awards. 

Seattle Pacific women’s soccer players Mariah Alexander and Sophia Chilczuk were both named First Team Academic All-Americans. The two give the GNAC a total of 31 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-Americans, which honor both academic and athletic achievement.

Over the last four seasons, four 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. Joining Johnson, the 2021 baseball recipient, 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 2020-21 academic year, 89.1 percent of the conference’s 111 competing teams posted cumulative grade point averages of 3.00 or higher. Four GNAC schools had all of their teams surpass the 3.00 threshold: Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene, 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 Cal Poly Humboldt (formerly 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.

Cal Poly Humboldt and Seattle University were charter members of the conference.  Cal Poly 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.

Past affiliate members of the GNAC include Azusa Pacific University (football), Dixie State University (football), University of Mary (men’s soccer), University of Sioux Falls (men’s soccer), South Dakota Mines (football) and UC San Diego (rowing).

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.