Bearcats hope to qualify both teams for nationals on Saturday

Willamette’s men and women’s cross country teams each have a chance of winning NCAA Division III West Region titles this Saturday. But what’s more important is that they turn in a good enough finish to qualify for the national championship meet the following weekend.

The West Region championships will be hosted by the University of La Verne in Chino, Calif. The NCAA championship meet will be Saturday, Nov. 23 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

The top three men’s teams in the West Region meet and the top two women’s teams will advance to the national championships.

The No. 2-ranked Bearcat men are favored to win the regional meet but should get some pressure from defending region champion and 14th-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and No. 22 Puget Sound.

The Willamette women, ranked No. 21, expect to be in a dogfight with Occidental, Whitworth and Puget Sound.

Both Bearcat teams are coming off winning Northwest Conference championships Nov. 2 in Tacoma, Wash.

Individually, the men’s West Region race should come down to Willamette’s Aaron Young, Jake Stout and Aaron Hollingshead, Puget Sound’s Dan McLean, and Claremont’s Pat McGrail and Crosby Freeman.

‘We’re the deepest team, so we should be the team to beat,” said Willamette men’s coach Matt McGuirk. “Our guys have worked very hard to get in this position and they want to make the most of the opportunity.”

The women’s race should come down to Willamette’s Kari Holbert, Whitworth’s Leslie Nelson and Claremont’s Angie Jacquez.

“We’re right in the hunt and that’s what we had hoped for,” said Bearcat women’s coach Kelly Sullivan. “Traditionally, we’ve run well at the regional meet, so hopefully we’ll continue that. We’ve had a great year so far. I like our chances.”

Claremont won both the men and women’s titles last year in Salem, while both Willamette teams finished second. Stout is the highest returning male finisher; he placed third last year. Jacquez is the highest returning female finisher; she placed fourth in 2001.