SALEM, OR-Bush Park will be the site of the largest collegiate cross-country meet on the West Coast Saturday morning as Willamette University hosts the 31st Annual Charles Bowles Invitational featuring 77 teams and clubs and nearly 1300 runners. The meet is named in honor of legendary Willamette Cross-Country and Track & Field Coach Charles Bowles, who began the growing tradition of Bearcat distance running over thirty years ago.

Six races held throughout the morning and into the afternoon. The men’s Division I race begins the meet at 9:30 am followed by the women’s Division I field at 10:10 am. At 10:40 am, the men’s college race (DII, DIII, NAIA) will precede the women’s college race at 11:20 am. After this, the open races (JC, Club, Unatt., and “B” teams) will ensue, starting with the men’s race at 11:50 am and the women’s race at 12:30 pm.

The first race of the day features nationally competitive individuals and teams. Oregon, Portland, and Washington all come in ranked among the top 33 teams in the country. The Washington Huskies are currently ranked 33 rd and will be led by senior Mark Mandi. Portland, led by 2005 Outdoor 10k All-American John Moore, is currently ranked 22 nd in Division I and will be looking to improve that ranking this weekend.

Oregon will bring its men’s team to the Willamette Invite for the first time in over a decade, and it could be a group that would surprise. Galen Rupp, 10k junior national record holder (28:15 is scheduled to make his collegiate cross-country debut. The 21st ranked Air Force Academy will be joining this solid group of teams and will feature a solid gro up of seniors including Mark Walter (NCAA 1500 qualifier), Nick Wilson, Jeff Gosselin, and Travis Patterson.

The women’s university race will be similarly competitive with Oregon, Washington, Portland, Iowa and Idaho all being teams to watch. Washington, currently ranked 30th, will bring a very young and talented team that features freshman standout Tori Tyler.

Idaho will be looking to defend its title from last year’s invite with the aid of standout runner Mary Kamau, winner of last year’s invite. Iowa’s women’s team will make the trip all the way out from the Midwest, bringing home a native Oregonian Meghan Armstrong who won three state titles while running at Tualatin High School.

The college men’s race should be a very competitive with Chico State ranked 4th in Division II, British Columbia ranked 10th in NAIA, and Willamette ranked 7th in NCAA Division IIIbattling for the top spots. Several other ranked small colleges will be traveling in for the weekend’s festivities. Among those are St. John’s University (MN), ranked 28th in DIII, Albertson (14th in NAIA), and Vanguard, who is ranked 27th in NAIA.

Willamette’s men won its first meet of the season two weeks ago at the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle, WA. A solid pack of Bearcats including Nick Symmonds (SR., Boise, ID), Carlos Ruiz (SR., Salem, OR), Scott Overby (SR., Gresham, OR), Travis Harris (SR., Bellhingham, WA), and Ian Batch (SO., Boise, ID) should make the host school a fun team to watch.

In the women’s race, the Chico State group should be the favorite after winning last year’s event for both the men and the women. Their women’s team is currently ranked 3rd in NCAA Division II. British Columbia (2nd, NAIA) will make the trip from Canada and could provide a test for Chico State. In addition, Lewis & Clark College will bring their 24th ranked (DIII) to Bush Park in hopes of improving their rankings.

Willamette’s women’s squad (currently ranked 20th in Division III) will be competing for the second time all season. In its first meet at Sundodger, Willamette had a mix of freshmen up front along with some veterans with national experience. Leading the way for the Bearcats is Sarah Zerzan (San Marcos, CA), daughter of former Willamette great Terry Zerzan, who was the 6th best freshman at the NCAA Division III Cross-Country Championships last year. Junior Elizabeth Hart (Spokane, WA), sophomore Ashley Sharratt (Union, OR), along with freshmen Maddie Coffman (Boise, ID), Ali Maki (Shoreview, MN), and Mara Engle (Bellingham, WA) will look to add to their debut in Seattle by running well on their home course.