Bearcats Set to Defend Winning Streaks at NWC Championships

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University men's and women's cross country teams will bring impressive strings of conference titles when they compete at the Northwest Conference Cross Country Championships at Willamette Mission State Park near Wheatland, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 27. The Bearcat men's team has won six consecutive NWC titles, while the Willamette women's team has recorded five straight NWC championships.

With so many successful results in recent seasons, defeating the Bearcats will be a goal of every other team running the course on Saturday. The women's race starts at 11 a.m. (PDT) and will cover 6,000 meters. The men's race is set for 12 p.m. (PDT) and will cover 8,000 meters.

Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk expects the standings to be close.

"In this small of a meet, the scores are going to be closer," McGuirk said. "On the women's side, the University of Puget Sound is a great team. Whitman is young, but certainly very talented. Lewis & Clark has some quality individual runners. On the men's side, some teams have improved ... Linfield and Whitworth, in particular, are running better than last season. And UPS always has a good team.

"I expect the meet to be close because of how few runners there are (each race will have about 60 athletes involved in the scoring and approximately 80 athletes overall). As a result, our kids really need to run well to defend their titles," McGuirk added.

Willamette has the defending individual conference champions, Ian Batch (Sr., Eagle, ID/Capital HS) and Sarah Zerzan (Sr., San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS), to lead the way. Batch won last year's NWC men's race in Tacoma, Wash., with a time of 24:30.70 for the 8K course. Zerzan took first place in the women's race by recording a time of 20:32.66 over the 6K course.

The Bearcats have plenty of NWC running experience. Nine of Willamette's 10 runners in each race this weekend will have competed at one or more NWC Championships in the past. Willamette also features three women's runners and six men's runners who earned All-Conference honors last season by finishing in the Top 15 individually.

WU's returning All-NWC women's runners are Zerzan, junior Maddie Coffman (Boise, ID/Boise HS) and junior Jena Winger (Bonney Lake, WA/Sumner HS). In addition to Zerzan's winning finish, the Bearcats also received a ninth place finish from Coffman and an 11th place finish from Winger. All three runners have completed 5-kilometer races in under 18 minutes this season and should be strong contenders for All-Conference honors at the 6K distance this weekend.

Other runners from the Willamette women's team will be Hannah Vietmeier (So., Shoreline, WA/Shorewood HS), Alison Maki (Jr., Shoreview, WA/Mounds View HS), Carly Killam (Sr., Kailua, HI/Punahou High School), Katrina Brett (Sr., Longview, WA/Mark Morris HS), Edith Polanco (Jr., Salem, OR/McKay HS), Ashley Sharratt (Jr., Union, OR/Union HS) and Molly Lewis (So., Gig Harbor, WA/Gig Harbor HS).

For the Willamette men's team, returning All-NWC competitors include Batch, junior Josh Clough (Auburn, WA/Auburn Riverside HS), sophomore Kyle Kotaich (Florence, OR/Siuslaw HS), junior Alex Jimenez (Parkdale, OR/Hood River Valley HS), senior Lucas Nebert (Cincinnati, OH/Wyoming HS) and junior Kellen Peters (Forest Grove, OR/Forest Grove HS/Pacific University).

Following Batch's first place finish a year ago for the Bearcats were Clough in sixth place, Kotaich in 10th place, Jimenez in 11th place and Nebert in 14th place. Peters was third in the race a year ago while running for Pacific University.

Also running for the Bearcats will be Lucas May (So., Portland, OR/Franklin HS), who has run well and is back to full health, as well as Taylor Roholt (So., Albuquerque, NM/Sandia Prep), who has been among the team's top four finishers this season, plus solid athletes in Chris Platano (So., Myrtle Point, OR/Myrtle Point HS) and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (Jr., Juneau, AK/Juneau-Douglas HS).

McGuirk said that the course was similar to last year's course in Tacoma and that it shouldn't create any surprises if the weather is good. He also noted that the men's race will involve four loops and the women's race will as three loops through portions of the State Park. The top seven finishers earn First Team All-NWC honors and the next seven finishers received Second Team All-NWC recognition.

The Willamette men's team remained #5 in this week's NCAA Division III National Rankings, as released by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). No other NWC men's team was ranked this week. In the women's NCAA Division III National Rankings, Willamette stayed at #7, while the University of Puget Sound remained at #19 and Whitman College held at #33.

Sarah Zerzan of Willamette is the defending NWC women's cross country champion.

Sarah Zerzan of Willamette is the defending NWC women's cross country champion.