Bearcats Look for Fifth Straight Conference Titles As Track Season Begins This Weekend With Willamette Opener

The 2006 version of Willamette Track & Field begins this weekend with the Willamette Opener on Saturday at Bowles Track. They await the challenge of continuing the growing tradition established in 2002, when the Bearcats won their first of what is now four straight men’s and women’s Northwest Conference Championships.

With a new group being formed in the early stages of the spring, the hope is that the current Bearcats will build upon the foundation laid by last year’s group of talented and dedicated seniors who went through four years without losing a conference title.

As that group set the bar high not only at conference but at national meets, the coaching staff has instilled the current roster of Bearcats with a sense of pride, knowing that with a formidable group of returners as well as a solid crew of newcomers, it could be another outstanding season on the track and in the field.

With names like Nate Matlock, Aaron Hollingshead, Tyler May, and K.C.Gillespie now gone, it will be up to a new cast of athletes to write the next chapter for Willamette Men’s Track & Field. Top conference scorers who return are Nick Symmonds (SR., Boise, ID), Brennan Garrelts (SR., Roseburg, OR), Ben Decherd (SR., Portland, OR), Julio Vieyra (JR., Salem, OR), and Steve Wilbon (SR., Stockton, CA).

Leading that pack is Symmonds. The five-time national champion was recently named the Ad Rutchsman award winner at the Oregon Sports Award banquet, given to the best small college athlete in Oregon. In his first three years, Symmonds has won Northwest Conference titles in the 400, 800, 1500, 4X400, and this fall he won the individual crown in cross-country.

“We understand that we graduated a special group of seniors last year,” said head coach Matt McGuirk. “Their contribution to the program does not go unnoticed, and our current group owes it to them to carry on the tradition. We’ve brought in a lot of talented kids and we expect our veterans to provide leadership and perform at a very high level.”

On the women’s side, led by All-Americans Lindsey Patterson (SR., Vancouver, WA), Andrea May (JR., Bellingham, WA) and Jordyn Smith (SO., Henderson, NV), McGuirk believes the Bearcats are poised for not only a great season within the conference but also on a national scale. Add a young group of eager and talented student-athletes and Willamette looks forward to the challenge that lies ahead.

“It’s a heavy task to replace student-athletes like three-time All-American Shannon McGrane and four-time All-American Alicia Andrews. Our women understand that they must take the baton now, and attempt to take the program to new heights,” said McGuirk.

“On the whole, we are very pleased with the approach that our student-athletes have taken going into the season. Our coaching staff, that I’m very proud of, has done a great job of providing the kids with all the resources, information, and advice they need to make this yet another great year for Bearcat Track & Field.”


Event Breakdown:

Sprints:

Men: McGuirk says this crew of sprinters looks stronger than in years past. Steve Wilbon, who finished sixth in the 100 and third in the long jump at last year’s NWC Championships, returns for his senior season. Jon Hartman (FR., Eugene, OR) and Nathan Jones (JR., Tucson, AZ), who also scored last year in the conference meet, will help form the nucleus of a solid spring crew.

Women: Andrea May, the 2005 NWC 100m champion, may be the most versatile performer on the women’s side. She can be a factor in the sprints, the hurdles and the heptathlon. National qualifier Mariah Hanson (JR., Paulsbo, WA) is also back, along with All-American Lindsey Patterson, last year’s NWC long jump champion. Add to that group some speedy freshmen including Kelsey Priest (Beaverton, OR), Sascha Larsen-Helbing (FR., Honokaa, HI) and Katie Klein (Forest Grove, OR) and the Bearcat women will be very deep in the sprint events.

Distance Events:

Men: Symmonds anchors the distance runners for the Bearcat men, but he’ll have plenty of help. Ian Batch (SO., Boise, ID), a cross-country standout, will be competing for the first time on the track for the Bearcats and is a national caliber runner. As is Julio Vieyra, last year’s NWC 1500 champ, who will look to take his running to a new level this spring. Other key performers include conference scorers Travis Harris (SR., Bellingham, WA), Lucas Nebert (SO., Cincinnati, OH) and Ben Leipzig (JR., Waban, MA), and freshmen standouts Josh Clough (Auburn, WA) and Tristan Knudson-Lombardo (Juneau, AK). In the steeplechase, a new crop of runners will look to fill the void left by All-Americans Aaron Hollingshead and Scott Overby.

Women: This is another strong area for the Bearcat women. Led by Carly Killam, who raced at nationals last year in the 800, and Sarah Zerzan, the West Region’s Cross Country champ and Cross-Country All-American as a sophomore. McGuirk will also look to talented veterans Natalie Muren (SR., Keizer, OR) in the 5k, and Bobbi Wright (SR., Gold Hill, OR) and Ashley Sharratt (SO., Union, OR) in the steeplechase. Talented newcomers Maddie Coffman (Boise, ID) and Ali Maki (Shoreview, MN) will try to make a splash in the conference meet as well.

Hurdles:

Men: NWC champ Brennan Garrelts is back to anchor the Bearcats hurdlers. He’ll be supported by a solid group of returners as well as a hardworking group of freshmen including high school teammates Drew Lackman and Garrison Coy, both of Gig Harbor, WA, as well as Grant Piros (Newberg, OR).

Women: Despite the loss of NCAA runner-up Shannon McGrane, this is another area of great strength for Willamette’s women. Jordyn Smith, who finished 5th in the nation as a freshman a year ago, is back. Andrea May, mentioned above, will likely contest both hurdle events, and has shown signs of being special in those events. National qualifier Roseanne Kassebaum (SR., Oregon City, OR), in her final year, has taken her training to a new level, and should have an outstanding senior campaign.

Multi Events:

Men: Mark Rice (SO., Lewiston, ID) finished fourth in the conference decathlon a year ago and is the Willamette’s top returner. Piros (mentioned above) took up the javelin this summer and hopes to combine that with his running ability to move into this event.

Women: Roseann Kassebaum will look to be a factor, where she has scored in years past, along with multi-talented newcomer Brooke Smith (FR., Glide, OR), Andrea May, and Jordyn Smith.

Throws:

Men: With Nate Matlock gone, the Bearcats will look to several athletes to score points. McNary’s Jacob Monroe, a freshman, has already earned a reputation for his tremendous work ethic in the weight room, and he will look to creep into the conference scoring in the throws. Piros, primarily a hurdler, has the potential of throwing well in the javelin and could be a presence in this event within the conference.

Women: The Bearcats will feature a great group of talented young throwers led by javelin national qualifier Sophia Dentzel (JR., Port Townsend, WA). A pair of sophomores who both scored in conference a year ago — Autumn Helmick (SO., Salem, OR) and Melinda Fahey (SO., Salem, OR), have been making steady improvements and will provide a huge lift in the throws this year.

Jumps:

Men: Steve Wilbon finished third in the NWC a year ago and will be back to lead the jumpers. McGuirk is hoping to get production out of David Fife (FR., Canby, OR) and Ian Mansfield (SO., Hillsboro, OR), a pair of basketball players who bring depth to the jumping events.

Women: A previous All-American, Lindsey Patterson, who battled injuries all last season, is back in the fold for the Bearcat women and is poised to have a breakout senior year. High jumper Alanna Pledger (FR., Wilsonville, OR) finished 3rd in the 3A Oregon State Meet last year and could have national potential in the high, long and triple jumps. Brooke Smith is also a factor in the jumping events. In the pole vault, Lynn Olson (JR., Oregon City) and Kristina Arquette (JR., Tempe, AZ) will team with the single A Washington State champ Maria Savoca (FR., Rainier, WA). Savoca will also compete in the long and triple jumps.