Nationally Ranked Cross Country Team Kick Off Season This Weekend

SALEM OR — The final fall sports program at Willamette University gears up this weekend when the nationally-ranked men’s and women’s cross country teams compete at a pair of meets at The University of Washington and George Fox University.

The Bearcats are led by Head Coach Matt McGuirk, last year’s West Region Coach of the Year in both cross country and track and field, as well as the Division III National Coach of the Year in track and field. McGuirk is head coach of both cross-country squads this season, taking over the women’s program from former coach Kelly Sullivan. Sullivan left in January to head up the new cross-country program at Oregon State University.

The women’s team, led by All-American Kari Holbert (senior, Gresham, OR) and the top six runners from last season, begins the season ranked first in the West Region and eighth in the nation. On the men’s side, All-Americans Nick Symmonds (sophomore, Boise, ID) and Aaron Hollingshead (senior, Portland, OR) lead an equally deep squad that is also ranked No. 1 in the West Region and 12th in the nation.

Saturday, both squads will split up to run in the Sundodger Invitational in Lincoln Park hosted by The University of Washington and the Bear Fete at Champoeg Park, in a meet hosted by George Fox University.

The Sundodger meet will include several Division I teams and also features defending men’s cross country national champion — Calvin College from Michigan.

“Both events will give us a good chance to gauge where we are at as a team. We’re very deep on both teams. We’ve got a lot of talented runners who believe in the program and who are willing to make personal sacrifices in the best interests of the team,” said McGuirk.

New full-time assistant coach Jimmy Bean agrees: “I’m extremely fortunate to come into a program where being successful at the national level is a reasonable expectation. The kids and the coaches here have high goals and are willing to work hard to achieve them.”

For the women, last year’s top six runners return. Along with Holbert, the Bearcats feature Danya Rumore (sophomore, Hope, ID), Natalie Muren (junior, Keizer, OR), Katie Pierce (senior, Willits, CA), Molly Phimister (junior, Vancouver, WA) and Lauren Sherwood (junior, Eugene, OR).

Add in experienced runners like 800 meter All-American Alicia Andrews (junior, Clarkston, WA), Bobbi Wright (junior, Gold Hill, OR), Molly Brady (junior, Colorado Springs, CO), Carly Killam (sophomore, Kailua, HI) and Ellen Beebe (sophomore, Santa Cruz, CA), and McGuirk and company have good reason to believe they could finish in the hunt at nationals this season.

The men’s team is very experienced and look forward to the challenge of filling the void left by three-time All-American Jacob Stout and two-time All-American Aaron Young. Leading this group are a pair of track and field All-Americans, Aaron Hollingshead and Nick Symmonds. Hollingshead finished sixth in the steeplechase in the NCAA Division III finals last year to earn All-American honors. He’ll be joined by three-time national champion Nick Symmonds (1500, 800, 800), who is fully recovered from injuries that kept him out last season.

Others who are expected step up and make a real impact this season are Nathan O’Brien (senior, Wilsonville, OR), Travis Harris (sophomore, Bellingham, WA), Brendan Brown (senior, Glen Cove, NY), Carlos Ruiz (junior, Salem, OR), Nathan Love (senior, Gold Hill, OR), Dan Yaeger (sophomore, Beaverton, OR), Julio Vieyra (sophomore, Salem, OR), Josh Butler (sophomore, Wilder, ID), Joe Kaczmarek (sophomore, Boise, ID) and Jamie Timbrell (junior, San Francisco, CA).

Both teams will also feature a handful of freshman runners who are prepared to step in and challenge for spots in championship meets.

Also filling out the coaching staff are Amber Emery, Jacob Stout, Aaron Young, and Stuart Chaffey. McGuirk is ecstatic about his staff and feels that his coaches will give Willamette an opportunity to be successful well into the future.

“As the defending conference champs for both men and women, that’s our first goal — to win the NWC again,” said McGuirk. “After that, we need to finish in the top 2 in the West Region to send a full team to nationals. Our goal at nationals has always been to bring home a trophy and that means finishing in the top four. It would be really special to meet both teams’ goals on the same day.”