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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 21-year history.

Founded in July 2001, GNAC teams have had over 100 NCAA Division II Top-10 national team finishes in all 16 sports that it sponsors.

The return to full competition after the COVID-19 shutdowns was a successful one for the conference. Western Washington volleyball led the way in the fall, leading three GNAC teams to qualify for the NCAA West Regional. The Vikings won the program’s fourth West Region championship and advanced to the national semifinals.

Both Seattle Pacific and Western Washington advanced to the West Region women’s soccer championship, with the Falcons taking a 2-1 victory in the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams. Seattle Pacific went on to advance to the national quarterfinals.

Simon Fraser won its first women’s cross country regional championship while Alaska Anchorage freshman Coleman Nash earned All-American honors in his first national meet, placing 27th. Seattle Pacific represented the GNAC in the men’s soccer postseason while Central Washington made the national playoff field in football.

In the winter, the conference flexed its strength in women’s basketball by qualifying four teams for the West Regional. Western Washington emerged as the best in the West, defeating Cal State East Bay in the regional final before advancing to the Division II national championship game. The Vikings became the third team from the GNAC to make it to the title game.

Alaska benefitted from a one-year change to qualification for the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships, running the table as the No. 10 seed to win the program’s first conference championship. The Nanooks went on to stun the West Regional field, advancing to the regional final.

Alison Andrews-Paul posted a banner year on the track for Simon Fraser. She became the 16th GNAC women’s indoor national champion, winning the 800 meters in a meet record time of 2:04.04. She went on set the Division II record in the outdoor 800 meters and placed second at the Division II Outdoor Championships.

Western Washington capped the school’s banner season by a return to the podium at the Division II Rowing Championships, placing second overall and second in the Varsity 8+. It is the Vikings’ fifth national runner-up finish as the conference claimed three of the six qualifying spots in the national regatta.

The Vikings also saw both of its golf teams qualify for regional tournaments while Simon Fraser qualified for the men’s golf regional.

Northwest Nazarene saw both its baseball and softball team qualify for regionals. The Nighthawks were joined in baseball regional by Western Oregon.

The conference also made its mark known over the summer with three former Simon Fraser athletes, Lindsey Butterworth, Addy Townsend and Cameron Proceviat, competing for Canada at the World Athletics Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

In the conference’s 21-year history, GNAC teams have won five 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.

Central Oklahoma won its third consecutive women’s rowing national championship in 2021 and its first as an affiliate member of the GNAC.

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), women’s soccer (2019) women's basketball (2022) and women's rowing (2022).

Over its history, the GNAC has also been successful academically. Conference student-athletes have won winning over 120 CoSIDA Academic All-American awards. 

Seattle Pacific’s Travis Swallow became the first four-time Academic All-American in conference history, earning first team honors in 2021. The Falcons’ Sophia Chilczuk earned her second consecutive Academic All-American award in women’s soccer as did Western Oregon’s Justin Crosswhite in men’s track and field. Simon Fraser’s Alison Andrews-Paul also earned first team selection in women’s track and field.

The honors give the GNAC a total of 35 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-Americans, which honor both academic and athletic achievement.

Over the last five seasons, five 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 Washington’s Clarice Ruhlin-Hicks is the latest, receiving the honor at the 2022 Division II Rowing Championships.

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. Ben Johnson was the Elite 90 winner at the 2021 Division II Baseball Championships.

During the 2021-22 academic year, 84.7 percent of the conference’s 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.