Spotlight On Individual Efforts At Track Championships
Once again, the GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships takes place at Western Oregon University's McArthur Field.
Once again, the GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships takes place at Western Oregon University's McArthur Field.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

MONMOUTH, Ore. – While the goal will certainly be to win the team trophies, much of the talk will be about individual performances at the 2018 GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which begins Friday at Western Oregon University’s McArthur Field.

Alaska Anchorage, who won both the men’s and women’s meets last year, will vie to repeat as team champions. The Seawolves’ men just edge out Western Washington for the title last year with 134 points while the women had a 27-point cushion to win with 158 points.

The focus, though, will be on the individuals who have made the 2018 GNAC outdoor season a historic one. Entering the meet, athletes have broken six conference records, one Division II record and established two more top-three Division II all-time best times.

Adding to the excitement is a boatload of returning champions. A total of 13 men’s champions and six women’s champions are back from last year along with a pair of athletes who won in 2016.

With the meet taking place as Western Oregon, it stands to be a special one for David Ribich. The senior has already automatically qualified for nationals in both the 800 meters and 1,500 meters. He set the Division II record in the 1,500 meters by running 3:37.85 at April’s Bryan Clay Invitational, a mark that is the fifth best run collegiately this year and No. 22 in the world.

Ribich will not only be looking to repeat as 800-meter champion, but will also try to become the first male athlete in conference history to win four consecutive GNAC outdoor titles in the 1,500 meters.

In addition to Ribich, Western Oregon has the talent to make a run for the team title at home. Alani Troutman joins Ribich as a returning champion, having won the long jump as a freshman. His season-best of 24 feet, 3.5 inches leads the GNAC. The Wolves have seven of the top eight times in the 800 meters, which includes Ribich, Josh Dempsey (1:51.26), AJ Holmberg (1:51.39) and Dustin Nading (1:52.11). Nading and Dempsey are also No. 2 and No. 3 behind Ribich in the 1,500.

Coming off a team win in the indoor season, Concordia could challenge for an outdoor title as well thanks to its strength in the throws. Caleb Bridge is the defending champion in both the shot put and discus, but trails on the GNAC best lists behind two teammates. Josh Koch, who won the shot in 2016, is 16th in Division II at 57 feet, 9.5 inches. Jakob Chamberlin leads the discus with a mark of 178 feet, 5 inches, while Jacob Slate leads the hammer at 202 feet, 2 inches. In addition, Easton Christensen enters with the No. 4 spot in the javelin at 208 feet, 4 inches.

But Concordia is not all about throwers. Carlos Ortiz, the GNAC indoor champion in the 100 and 200 meters, has set school records in both the 100 (10.60) and 200 (21.45) outdoors. Giovanni Brown is third in the GNAC in the 400-meter hurdles (54.86) after having placed third in the decathlon last week.

With three returning champions, Western Washington would love to move up from its close second-place finish to Alaska Anchorage a year ago. Alex Barry is among five GNAC athletes to go over 200 feet in the javelin this season, returning as champion with a mark of 212 feet, 6 inches. Cordell Cummings returns to defend his title in the 400-meter hurdles. He enters second in the GNAC with a time of 53.97 seconds. Isaac Derline aims to defend his title in the 5,000 meters, entering the meet with a best of 14:47.99.

Tupre Wickliff, who won the GNAC high jump title indoors, leads the conference outdoors with a mark of 6 feet, 9 inches. The Vikings will also look for points from Brandon Pless in the throws along with Somit Chhim and Seren Dances in the horizontal jumps.

Central Washington enters the meet with 21 points in hand thanks to the decathlon. Freshman Braydon Maier won the meet while Michael Forster was second. Maier will be among the favorites in the 110-meter hurdles. Senior Kodiak Landis, who finished seventh, leads the GNAC in the 400 meters at 47.87 seconds and is ranked second in the pole vault and long jump.

The Wildcats will have scoring potential in the distances from Tyler Humphries in the 10,000 meters (32:15.22), Corbin Carlton in the steeplechase (9:09.17) and Zach Whittaker in the triple jump (46-1.5).

Alaska Anchorage will have a say in the title chase thanks to a mix of performers in the sprints, distances and jumps. The Seawolves have three of the top-five times entering the meet in the 200 meters, led by Oshane Hylton’s 21.42. Christopher Brake has the No. 2 mark in the GNAC in both the high jump (6-6.75) and the triple jump (46-11) while Brandon Nicholson leads the triple jump at 47 feet, 5.25 inches.

In the distances, junior Jorge Sanchez leads the conference in the 10,000 meters (31:20.37) while Kaleb Korta enters as the defending champion in the steeplechase.

Northwest Nazarene’s Payton Lewis will look to become a four-time champion in the pole vault. His season best of 16 feet, 6.75 inches, leads the conference by a foot. John Van Beuren enters the meet with NCAA provisional qualifying marks in the shot put (53-9), discus (163-0) and the hammer (186-3).

Montana State Billings’ Sam Zook is the defending champion in the 100 and 200 meters. He leads the GNAC in both events with NCAA provisional times of 10.41 seconds and 21.08 seconds. The Yellowjackets’ Beau Ackerman has automatically qualified for nationals in the javelin and leads the GNAC with his throw of 226 feet, 10 inches.

Saint Martin’s Kauanoe Vanderpoel is the defending champion in the hammer and enters the meet with a season-best of 188 feet, 7.75 inches. Teammate Brian Chalkley is second to Ackerman in the javelin at 213 feet, 11 inches.

Simon Fraser’s Vladislav Tsygankov enters currently leading the GNAC in the 400-meter hurdles (52.06) while Oliver Jorgensen leads the league in the steeplechase (8:58.72).

The performances of Ribich on the men’s side are rivaled by the year that Alaska Anchorage’s Caroline Kurgat has put together. The junior, who won the NCAA cross country title in November, has set the GNAC records this season in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. Her best of 32:33.24 in the 10,000 is No. 2 in Division II history while her 15:41.24 in the 5,000 in No. 3.

Kurgat is automatically qualified for nationals in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000. She is entered in all three in Monmouth.

The Seawolves will have the performers to make a run at another GNAC title. Vanessa Aniteye leads the GNAC in the 400 meters (55.03) while Zennah Jepchumba is the defending champion in the 5,000 meters. Danielle McCormick, the indoor 800-meter national champion, is automatically qualified for nationals in the event outdoors and leads the GNAC with a best of 2:06.17.

Seattle Pacific will ride the coattails of a freshman to try and return to the top of the podium. Renick Meyer won last week’s heptathlon. In the process, she set the GNAC record in the long jump with a mark of 20 feet, 5 inches, ranking her No. 7 in Division II. Meyer also owns the No. 2 time in the league in the 100-meter hurdles (14.22).  Scout Cai placed second in the heptathlon and is considered a favorite in the pole vault and the high jump.

Also helping the Falcons’ title chances will be Julia Stepper, who leads the conference in the 100 meters (12.06) and Lani Taylor, who is No. 2 in the 400 meters (55.93) and Geneva Lehnert, who shares the GNAC lead in the high jump (5-7). The Falcons are also lifted by a bevy of distance runners in Mary Charleson in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters, Chynna Phan in the 800 meters and Kate Lilly in the 1,500.

Concordia athletes continue to rewrite the record book in the throws. Christina MacDonald enters with the hammer record at 203 feet, 6 inches, and is automatically qualified for nationals. Melissa Ausman has also punched her ticket in the discus with a record throw of 182 feet, 10 inches. In addition, Ausman owns the top mark in the shot put at 49 feet, 9.25 inches.

The Cavaliers’ returning champ, however, is not in the throws. It is Tori Johnson, who won the high jump and enters with a season-best of 5 feet, 5 inches. Emma Hill will vie for the triple jump title as she enters with a best of 39 feet, 1 inch.

Central Washington’s returning champion is now a conference record holder. Mariyah Vongsaveng set the GNAC mark in the 100-meter hurdles last week with a time of 13.64 seconds, ranking her eighth in Division II. Also returning as champion is Alexa Shindruk in the 10,000 meters. She leads the GNAC and is 10th in Division II with her best time of 34:57.08.

HarLee Ortega provided the Wildcats six points with a third-place finish in the heptathlon and will look to add more points in the high jump. Erykah Weems leads the GNAC in the 400-meter hurdles (1:00.77) and is third in the 100-meter hurdles (14.50). Halle Irvine is second in the pole vault at 12 feet, 6 inches, while Nicole Soleim has the No. 2 mark in the steeplechase (10:48.96).

Simon Fraser’s Addy Townsend is the defending champion in the 800 meters and will contend to repeat. She is automatically qualified for nationals in the event with her 2:06.82 trailing McCormick for the top spot.  She also is second to Kurgat in the 1,500 meters at 4:22.26, ranking her third in Division II.

Townsend leads a strong middle and long-distance contingent for the Clan. Ally Ginther leads the conference in the 5,000 meters at 16:43.39 while Reta Dobie is the leader in the steeplechase at 10:33.81. Dobie is also among the NCAA qualifiers in the 1,500 meters.

Western Oregon looks to score the majority of its points in the distances as well. The Wolves have three NCAA qualifiers in the 800 meters, led by the 2:0776 of Olivia Woods that is No. 8 in the nation. Suzie Van De Grift is No. 12 at 2:08.89 and is also 15th in the 1,500 at 4:28.10. Kennedy Rufener will be a contender for conference titles at both 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.

Once again, the javelin will be one of the marquee events of the meet. Of the field of 15 competitors, 11 have NCAA provisional qualifying marks. Western Washington’s Raquel Pellecer leads the group. She is currently ranked fourth in Division II with a mark of 157 feet, 2 inches. Northwest Nazarene’s Ellie Logan is 11th at 150 feet, 10 inches, while Saint Martin’s Deanna Avalos 12th at 150 feet.

In addition to the javelin throwers, the Vikings’ Anna Paradee will aim for her second outdoor title in the pole vault and her first since 2016. She leads the GNAC with a best of 13 feet, 0.25 inches. Maddie Taylor shares the GNAC lead in the high jump with her best of 5 feet, 7 inches. The Saints’ Liz Larson is also a nationals qualifier in the hammer with her mark of 182 feet, 8 inches.