Top Cross Country Teams Come to Willamette This Weekend

Salem: It’s become one of the biggest sporting events in Salem every year, rivaling major softball tournaments. Over 1300 runners will invade Salem this week to compete alongside some of the nation’s elite cross country in
the 29th annual Charles Bowles Invitational set for Saturday at Bush Park.

Boasting one of the top cross country programs in Division III, the Bearcats will play host to teams from a dozen states and Canada with over 1300 runners registered for the four races beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The final race begins at 12:30 pm.

This marks the second season the meet has been known as the Charles Bowles Invitational, named after the Bearcats’ long-time cross country coach.

“This invitational has really taken off in the past five years,” said Bearcat Cross Country Coach Kelly Sullivan. “We’ve become known as one of the year’s top meets. Runners love the Bush Park course and it gives many quality teams a chance to compete against top competition. It’s become a mini-West Coast championship.”

Ranging from Division I schools like Marquette, Iowa and the University of Oregon to independent teams and runners from across the country, the meet features some of the nation’s top runners.

“We have the defending women’s NAIA champs in Northwest College and the No. 1 NAIA men’s team this year in Eastern Oregon University. UC-Davis and Chico State are nationally ranked and our teams rank right up there in Division III rankings,” said Sullivan. “We’re also one of the few meets that allows independent teams and club runners to compete. That makes our meet even more competitive.”

The meet has grown so big in recent years that it now features four races, two for men and two for women. Division I, open and club teams, and junior colleges race together in one division. Division II and III schools and NAIA competitors race in the other division.

To get just a taste of the talent, last year’s champion, Dave Davis, not only broke the course record, but went on to make the USA World Cross Country team for 2003.

In addition to the huge boost to the local economy from 1300 runners invading Salem, the met has become a huge source of pride for the Bearcats.

“This is a huge weekend for our runners. They take a lot of pride in hosting this meet, and in their own performances against some of the top runners in the country,” said Sullivan. “And it’s great for Willamette University because it showcases our athletes, our facilities and our university.”