Cross Country Teams Kick Off Season Saturday at UW

Salem, OR-With a few weeks of classes already under their belts, Willamette University’s Cross-Country men and women teams will compete in their first races of the season Saturday when they travel to Seattle for the Sundodger Invitational in Lincoln Park hosted by The University of Washington.

2004 was another banner year for the men’s and women’s cross-country programs, as they both successfully defended their Northwest Conference and NCAA Division III West Region titles, and posted top ten finishes at the NCAA Division III Cross-Country Championships.

Under Head Coach Matt McGuirk (pictured above), the 2004 NWC and West Region Coach of the Year, the men’s and women’s teams finished 5th and 9th, respectively at nationals last season.

Entering his third year as head coach, McGuirk believes this year’s teams have the necessary ingredients to once again compete for conference and regional championships, with an eye towards having Willamette University well-represented at the 2005 NCAA Division III Cross-Country Championships.

“Our coaching staff has high expectations in terms of what we ask from our student-athletes. We want them to commit to personal excellence within the framework of our team, and I am really excited about the leadership that has been provided thus far by our seniors. With the guidance from the upperclassmen in conjunction with an exceptional freshmen class, I feel confident that we have the pieces in place to continue the tradition that has been established here,” said McGuirk

The men’s team is led by an outstanding group of seniors, including 5-time Track & Field National Champion Nick Symmonds (JR, Boise, ID), Steeplechase All-American Scott Overby (SR., Gresham, OR), Travis Harris (JR, Bellingham, WA), Carlos Ruiz (SR., Salem, OR), Jamie Timbrell (SR., San Francisco, CA) and Joshua Edson (SR., Salem, OR). Add sophomore Ian Batch (SO., Boise, ID), who was the third best freshmen at last year’s national meet, along with NWC 1500m champion Julio Vieyra (JR., Salem, OR), junior Ben Leipzig (Waban, MA), and sophomore Lucas Nebert (Cincinnati, OH), and the men’s team has a great core group back in addition to the new crop of runners that will make a huge impact on the program.

The women’s team relies upon a similar formula. The stellar senior class includes two-time NCAA 10k finalist Natalie Muren (Keizer, OR), Bobbi Wright (Gold Hill, OR), Lauren Sherwood (Eugene, OR), and Molly Phimister (Vancouver, WA). Adding to this group will be All-West Region runner Elizabeth Hart (JR., Spokane, WA) and sophomore Sarah Zerzan (San Carlos, CA), who had the sixth highest finish among freshmen at last year’s NCAA Championships. With a very talented and eager group of underclassmen to complement these national competitors, the women’s team looks to vie for its fourth consecutive Northwest Conference Championship and third straight NCAA Division III West Region Championship.

Two important leaders of both the men’s and women’s teams will be graduate students Bobbi Wright and Scott Overby. As underclassmen, both sat out a cross-country season and now as students in the Master’s in Arts of Teaching Program at Willamette, they are able to complete their eligibility while gaining additional education towards their career paths. Says Wright, “A focal point for me this fall is to maintain a healthy balance in school and running, and hopefully I will be able to relay that message to student-athletes that I teach in the future.”

After taking his teams to Mt. Hood last weekend for a pre-season camp, McGuirk felt like the groups came back committed to training as a team in order to achieve their goals. “As always, we emphasize team actions and goals first and foremost. With that in mind, we believe that individual talents can shine through the support and encouragement of the group. As we head into this season, I am hopeful that our teams will continue to challenge one another to become better runners, students, and people each and every day.”

McGuirk is also excited about the coaching staff that will help to point the way this fall. Beginning his second year is assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Jimmy Bean. Bean, in his first year at Willamette, worked diligently to bring in a recruiting class that will look to make an immediate impact not only this fall but also in track and field this spring. In addition, Chris Sabato, most recently of Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, joins the staff and will assist with administrative duties which include maintaining our new Cross Country/Track and Field website which can be found at:

/www.willamette.edu/athletics/trackfield/teamsite/

Sabato will assist with cross-country in the fall and direct the pole vaulters in the spring. Jed Goldfried, most recently at Lewis & Clark in Portland, OR, will also aid in assistant coach duties for the distance runners.

McGuirk is pleased with the positive energy surrounding this year's team, “The thing that stands out to the me the most is that the student-athletes and my assistant coaches are all in it for the right reasons. The runners here truly desire to be excellent in academics, athletics, and in the campus community. As we attempt to raise the bar in our program, I know that it will not be a lack of effort that prohibits us from competing well at conference, regional, and national championships.”