David Ribich Repeats As GNAC Male Athlete Of The Year
David Ribich's senior season included three national championships, four Division II record times and a sub four-minute mile. Photo by Chris Oertell.
David Ribich's senior season included three national championships, four Division II record times and a sub four-minute mile. Photo by Chris Oertell.
David Ribich
David Ribich

Friday, June 15, 2018
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner

PORTLAND, Ore. – Of all of the milestones, records and achievements that Western Oregon’s David Ribich has accomplished this year, it is a four-week stretch in January and February that coach Mike Johnson singles out as the pinnacle moment.

Within that stretch, the senior from Enterprise, Oregon proceeded to set two NCAA Division II indoor all-time records and ducked under four minutes for the mile, all on the lanes of the University of Washington’s Dempsey Indoor Center. On Jan. 14, Ribich ran a Division II record 2:21.38 in the 1,000 meters. Less than a month later, on Feb. 10, Ribich chased a trio of Division I standouts to run 7:50.81 for 3,000 meters, also the best ever for a Division II athlete.

Sandwiched between those records was an elite mile at the UW Invitational on Jan. 30. Lined up against some of the nation’s best runners, Ribich became the 501st athlete in U.S. history to run a mile under four minutes, clocking a time of 3:58.88. He became just the fifth Division II athlete all-time to accomplish the feat.

“If you take that month at UW, and look at those times in the 1,000, the mile and the 3,000 meters, it is hard to beat,” Johnson said. “And David ran that mile after running a fast distance medley relay. When you look at those four weeks, that was an impressive run. He was hot.”

Those hot winter weeks are only a snapshot of a tremendous season for Ribich, who has been selected by the conference’s athletic directors as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s 2017-18 Male Athlete of the Year. It is a repeat selection for the senior, who also won the award in 2016-17.

“It means so much to repeat as GNAC Male Athlete of the Year,” Ribich said. “Our conference is full of top Division II athletes and receiving this award for the second year in a row is an honor. I am so thankful for the support the GNAC has given me for the last four years representing Western Oregon University. Our conference competition speaks for itself on the national level and I am grateful to be part of one of the best conferences in the country.”

The list of awards won by Ribich this season is breathtaking. He swept the conference’s cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year awards and was the Track Athlete of the Meet at both the GNAC Indoor and Outdoor Championships. He also swept all three men’s West Region honors by the U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), an organization that also named Ribich as its Division II Male Athlete of the Week five times.

There were All-American trophies in cross country and the indoor 3,000 meters and national championships in the indoor distance medley relay and the outdoor 1,500 meters. And in addition to the Division II all-time records indoors, Ribich also ran 3:37.35 for 1,500 meters outdoors at April’s Bryan Clay Invitational to set another Division II all-time best.

While he has delivered, the expectations have been high for Ribich all year. After winning the 1,500 meters at the 2017 NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships, Ribich earned an unexpected invitation to the USA Track & Field National Championships. He made the most of the opportunity, placing ninth in the final and firming establishing himself as a name to watch on the national stage.

While that may have been the moment than many observers of the sport saw as the start of something special, Johnson has seen the potential ever since recruiting Ribich to come to Western Oregon.

“When did I know for sure? You never know for sure,” Johnson said. “But you knew that if he had the physical attributes, the rest would take care of itself. You can’t really project things. We talk about taking care of today and if we do that, the tomorrows will be good. David always takes care of today.”

During the cross country season, Ribich led Western Oregon to its first GNAC team title in the sport with a nine-second victory at the GNAC Championships, covering the 8,000-meter course in 24:54.82. Two weeks later, racing on his home course in Monmouth, Ribich used a kick over the final kilometer to win the NCAA West Regional meet with a time of 29:49.2 over 10,000 meters. That led the Wolves to an appearance in the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, where Ribich placed 30th in 31:47.1 to earn All-American honors.

Ribich’s four hot weeks was just the warm-up for a great indoor track championship season. The senior repeated as GNAC champion in the mile and also won the 800 meters to earn GNAC Championships Male Track Athlete of the Meet honors. Ribich raced the 3,000 meters at the NCAA Championships, placing third in 8:01.55, and anchored the Wolves defense of their distance medley relay national championship. Thanks to the All-American efforts, Western Oregon tied for sixth in the team race for the second year in a row.

As the outdoor track season progressed, Ribich only got stronger and faster. His Division II record of 3:37.55 was set in the same section of the 1,500 at the Bryan Clay Invitational where New Mexico’s Josh Kerr set the Division I record (3:35.01) and yielded the top-nine collegiate times run this season. At the time, the mark was the 12th fastest in the world and ranks as the fifth-best collegiate time run this season, regardless of division.

Ribich went on to repeat as champion in both the 800 meters and 1,500 meters at the GNAC Outdoor Championships. His win in the 1,500 was his fourth consecutive victory and made him the first GNAC male athlete to win four titles in the same event. While qualified for the national meet both the 800 and 1,500 meters, Ribich focused on the 1,500 and defended his national title with a time of 3:45.54.

The decision to not race Ribich in every event he qualified for may look strange to track outsiders, but it is all part of a larger plan that Ribich and Johnson set out long before the season began. Simply put, it is about more than scoring team points and bringing home gold medals for WOU.

“Racing is part of training, so you have to look at the races as part of the whole picture and see how that will affect the future,” Johnson said. “How will a race in November or December affect things in April and May? How what you do now, both training and racing, affect your performance in the future?”

The philosophy has worked well for Ribich, who started his professional running career a week before he graduated. “This season has prepared me for a future in track and field in more ways that I can imagine,” Ribich said. “I recently signed with Brooks and will be representing their company and team as a professional track and field athlete. I will remain in the Pacific Northwest, which I believe is the best place for pursuing athletic careers.”

Johnson believes that Ribich has the mentality and ability to make the most of a professional career. “This sport is stressful, and David does a good job handling both the physical and emotional stress,” Johnson said. “He can run and compete in any race given the chance. Track and field is a sport of opportunity and if David gets the opportunity he will make the most of it.”

While Ribich takes great pride in his running performances, he also takes pride in his academic success. A six-time GNAC All-Academic Team selection (three times each in cross country and track and field), Ribich joined teammates Dustin Nading and Tyler Jones with selection to the Google Cloud/CoSIDA Academic All-District Team. He is considered to be a top candidate for selection as an Academic All-American, which will be announced next week.

“I completed all of my eligibility, my major and my minor in four years,” Ribich said. “That is a feat I am incredibly proud of.”

Following commencement, Ribich will be off on a senior trip, but it will be far from a break. After racing in the USA Track and Field National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, at the end of June, he will be off to Europe for two months of competition on the professional circuit. When not racing, Ribich is working on a completing a journal in hopes of publishing a book chronicling his senior season in Monmouth.

“The support and encouragement the GNAC has given me these last four years skyrocketed my performances to where I am at today,” Ribich said. “Thank you to the GNAC and Western Oregon for a great four years of academics and athletics.”

Also among the nominees for the GNAC Male Athlete of the Year award was Edwin Kangogo of Alaska Anchorage (cross country), Kevin Haynes of Central Washington (football), Carlos Ortiz of Concordia (track and field), Alex Cappa of Humboldt State (football), Jorey Egeland of Montana State Billings (cross country/track and field), Brandon Madsen of Saint Martin’s (soccer), Chris Crisologo of Simon Fraser (golf) and Alex Barry of Western Washington (track and field).

David Ribich, Western Oregon (Cross Country/Track and Field)
David Ribich, Western Oregon (Cross Country/Track and Field)
Andy Avgi, Western Oregon (Football/Basketball)
2014-15: Brody Miller, Montana State Billings (Baseball)
2013-14: David Downs, Seattle Pacific (Basketball)
2012-13: John Allen, Western Washington (Basketball) & Micah Chelimo, Alaska Anchorage (Track and Field)
2011-12: Grady Wood, Western Oregon (Baseball)
2010-11: Ryan Brown, Western Washington (Track and Field)
2009-10: Johnny Spevak, Central Washington (Football)
2008-09: Mike Reilly, Central Washington (Football)
2007-08: David Registe, Alaska Anchorage (Track and Field)
2006-07: Dustin Bremerman, Seattle Pacific (Basketball)
2005-06: Chris Randolph, Seattle Pacific (Track and Field) & Grant Dykstra, Western Washington (Basketball)
2004-05: Chris Randolph, Seattle Pacific (Track and Field) & Bobby McAlister, Seattle (Soccer)
2003-04: Austin Nichols, Humboldt State (Basketball)
2002-03: Fred Hooks, Humboldt State (Basketball)
2001-02: Mike Hinshaw, Western Oregon (Football/Track and Field)