Willamette Runners Prepare for Strong Competition at Mike Hodges Invitational

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The nationally-ranked men's and women's cross country teams from Willamette University will compete against some of the top collegiate runners in the State of Oregon when the Bearcats participate in the Mike Hodges Invitational in Oregon City, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 13. Willamette's men's team is ranked #4 in NCAA Division III and the WU women's team is ranked #8, according to the rankings released by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA) on Oct. 10.

The Mike Hodges Invitational, hosted by Clackamas Community College, features Willamette's teams, plus many of the top runners from the University of Oregon, as well as full teams from Oregon State University (women) and Portland State University.

The University of Washington and the University of Portland will send "B" teams to the competition, with their "A" teams at the NCAA Division I Pre-National qualifying in Terre Haute, Ind. Also competing will be teams from Clackamas, Lane Community College, Clark College, Mount Hood Community College and Southwestern Oregon Community College.

The University of Oregon will be sending plenty of strong runners to Oregon City. The top two runners from the #1-ranked men's team and the top two runners from the #3-ranked women's team won't be running for the Ducks, but most of the remaining key runners from the U. of O. will be going head-to-head with many of their in-state rivals.

It will be a great opportunity for the Bearcats to run against experienced and talented competition. The level of skill represented in each race should create quality match-ups for WU's top runners in Sarah Zerzan (Sr., San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS) and Ian Batch (Sr., Eagle, ID/Capital HS). Willamette also has significant depth on both teams, so the quality event will provide strong competition for WU's 25 men's entries and 17 women's entries.

"What I've told the kids this week is ... this is our last chance for awhile where there will be fields of this size," Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk said. "It's an opportunity to run hard against some very good competition. We don't run that many races, so we need to make the most of our opportunities."

At last year's Mike Hodges Invitational, Zerzan won the women's 5K race,with a time of 16:25.11. She won the race by 22.45 seconds over Dana Buchanan from the University of Oregon, who took second in 16:47.56. Zoe Nelson from Oregon was third and Sarah Pearson, also from Oregon, was sixth. Willamette finished second in the women's team standings behind the U.of O.

Zerzan is one of several returning runners at Willamette who did well at the Mike Hodges Invitational in 2006. Also back for another run on the Oregon City course are Jena Winger (Jr., Bonney Lake, WA/Sumner HS), who took 11th last year, Maddie Coffman (Jr., Boise, ID/Boise HS), who was 12th, Edith Polanco (Jr., Salem, OR/McKay HS), who placed 16th, Katrina Brett (Sr., Longview, WA/Mark Morris HS), who was 19th, and Hannah Vietmeier (So., Shoreline, WA/Shorewood HS), who took 20th.

The Willamette men's team placed third at last year's Mike Hodges Invitational, as the Bearcats trailed only the University of Oregon (1st place) and the University of Washington (2nd place). Batch finished 16th overall and ninth among scorers with a time of 19:47.65 over the 4-mile course. Among other returning runners for Willamette, Lucas Nebert (Sr., Cincinnati, OH/Wyoming HS) placed 30th overall and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (Jr., Juneau, AK, Juneau-Douglas HS) finished 34th.

Also expected to challenge for solid finishes this weekend are Taylor Roholt (So., Albuquerque, NM/Sandia Prep), Lucas May (So., Portland, OR/Franklin HS) and Kellen Peters (Jr., Forest Grove, OR/Forest Grove HS/Pacific University).

In addition to Batch, Nebert, Knutson-Lombardo, Roholt May and Peters, Willamette has at least another six runners capable of battling for spots among the team's top 10 runners. WU will run hard this weekend, as the Bearcats prepare for the upcoming Northwest Conference meet (Oct. 27 at Willamette Mission State Park) and NCAA West Region meet (Nov. 10 at McIver Park in Estacada, Ore.).

"We need to see consistency out of our top runners," McGuirk said. "We need some guys to establish themselves as solid scorers."

The Willamette cross country teams will compete at the Mike Hodges Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 13.

The Willamette cross country teams will compete at the Mike Hodges Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 13.