Bearcats Prep For Saturday's National Championships

DELEWARE, OH — Fresh off victories in the NCAA Division III West Regionals last weekend, the Willamette University men and women cross country teams arrived on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University Thursday to prepare for the national championships on Saturday.

Seven runners for each team will compete. Last year, the men’s team finished fifth in the nation and the women finished ninth. Helping the Bearcats along will be a crew of Willamette students — many of them cross country runners who will not be competing — who made the trip to offer vocal moral support.

Men’s Team Competitors:

Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (FR., Juneau, AK) enters this weekend’s meet with an impressive resume that he has built in only five races as a Bearcat. Tristan, a state champ in the 1600 and 3200 while at Juneau-Douglas High School, has made climbed steadily in our group and with one of the better freshman finishes at a West Region meet in recent memory, and will be a major impact in his first national race.

Ian Batch (SO., Boise, ID), who was the 3rd highest freshman finisher at last year’s national meet, will look to improve upon his 74th place finish a year ago. Batch, who has been in at the front of our pack all season long, has been a clutch performer for us over the past year and we will rely upon that characteristic this weekend.

Another Boise performer is senior Nick Symmonds. After winning the individual Northwest Conference Cross-Country crown, Symmonds had a down performance at the West Region but will be looking to bounce back and show the form that he has displayed earlier in the season.

Travis Harris (Bellingham, WA), a senior with junior eligibility, is coming off his highest regional finish ever, and will fly across the United States with the hopes of building upon that effort. Harris, a fierce competitor, was 64th at last year’s NCAA Championships and could make a significant improvement from that this weekend.

Senior Scott Overby (Gresham, OR) goes into Saturday’s race hoping to snap out of some recent late race struggles. After displaying some front-running ability early in the season, he has endured a couple tough races at conference and at regionals, and we are confident he can bounce back and contribute as a scoring member of this group.

Senior Carlos Ruiz (Salem, OR) prepares to run his final race as a Bearcat. In his last chance to represent Willamette University as a runner, Carlos will do so with the thought of improving upon his 80th place finish last year. Carlos has had a similar season to that of Scott, and this was the time last year when he began to put it all together and race to his potential.

Josh Clough (FR., Auburn, WA) will run in his first national race this weekend. Having put together a strong freshman season, we look for Josh to have an outstanding race this weekend, and help further his promising future as a Willamette Bearcat.

Women’s Team Competitors:

For the women, 2005 West Region Champion Sarah Zerzan (SO., San Carlos, CA) will lead Willamette as she has done all season. Zerzan easily won the West Region race last weekend, setting a new course record, breaking 22 minutes for the first time and being named the West Regional Female Athlete of the Year.

Zerzan has been a factor in the front of every race this season, and her improvement from September from November has put her in position to something special this weekend. She was 60th at last year’s national meet, and was the 6th best among all freshmen. Sarah’s ability to compete at such a high level is something that not only helps her move to the front of races, but also spreads among her teammates and elevates everyone’s ability.

Elizabeth Hart (JR., Spokane, WA) is in position to have an outstanding national meet. After enjoying Top 15 All-Conference and All-Region performances as of late, Hart will be among those in the front of the Bearcat Pack.

Finishing just ahead of Elizabeth at last weekend’s regional meet was stellar freshman Ali Maki (Shoreview, MN). Maki, who has been a steady presence in workouts and races all season long, will run in her first national race this weekend.

Senior Lauren Sherwood (Eugene, OR) will run her final cross-country race as a Willamette Bearcat. If recent races are an indication, Lauren will enjoy the best national finish of her career. Sherwood has been a determined leader and racer all season long, and we will need those characteristics from her this weekend.

Joining Sherwood will be senior Natalie Muren (Keizer, OR), who will be looking to end her cross-country career at Willamette on a positive note as well. Natalie, who was 52nd two years ago at the NCAA Championships, is fully healthy and we expect her to have a strong race in Ohio.

Freshman Maddie Coffman (Boise, ID), much like Ali, and representative of the entire freshman class, has competed well all season long. If she is to do the same this weekend, it will be fun to see her running around a pack of Bearcats on the national course.

Freshman Mara Engle (Bellingham, WA), who has been a pleasant surprise all season long, will make her national debut this weekend as well. She has run steadily around our top group all season long, and we are confident she can continue to do the same.

For complete race results, check the Bearcat athletics website Saturday afternoon.