Bearcats are Ready to Run at NCAA West Regional

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University cross country teams will be running to take their successful seasons to the next level this weekend when they compete at the NCAA Division III West Regional at McIver State Park in Estacada, Ore. The Bearcats, whose men's and women's teams are both ranked #5 in NCAA Division III, will be out to claim automatic bids into the NCAA Division III National Championships, set for Saturday, Nov. 17 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

Willamette has already achieved team and individual titles in the Northwest Conference this fall. The Bearcats now have their goals set on winning WU's sixth consecutive men's title and fifth consecutive women's title in the NCAA West Region, as well as the automatic berths to the National Championships that a first or second place finish will bring.

In addition to the top two team finishers in each of the NCAA's eight regions, an additional 16 teams nationwide will be selected for the National Championships. The top seven individual runners not on a qualifying team in each region also will qualify for the National meet.

"We need to run well to make sure that we qualify automatically for Nationals," Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk said. "There are about 100 runners in each race, so it will be a relatively small meet. It's going to be interesting."

The Northwest Conference has the potential to make a very strong showing in the women's race. In addition to fifth-ranked Willamette, the women's race also features the University of Puget Sound, ranked 20th, and Whitman College, which received votes in last week's final regular season rankings.

"I expect a good challenge from UPS on the women's side," McGuirk said. "And Whitman has a really good team, too."

The Bearcat women's team will be led by Sarah Zerzan (Sr., San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS), who won the Regional title and claimed the individual National Championship last season. She also won the Regional championship in 2005. Other strong contenders from Willamette in the women's race will be Maddie Coffman (Jr., Boise, ID/Boise HS) and Jena Winger (Jr., Bonney Lake, WA/Sumner HS). Also running for the Bearcats will be Molly Lewis (So., Gig Harbor, WA/Gig Harbor HS), Edith Polanco (Jr., Salem, OR/McKay HS), Ashley Sharratt (JR., Union, OR/Union HS) and Hannah Vietmeier (So., Shoreline, WA/Shorewood HS).

Willamette has the depth to succeed in the men's race as well, but will face several challenging teams from outside the conference. Ian Batch (Sr., Eagle, ID/Capital HS) and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (Jr., Juneau, AK/Juneau-Douglas HS) will lead the Bearcats. Also running for Willamette will be Josh Clough (Jr., Auburn, WA/Auburn Riverside HS), Lucas May (So., Portland, OR/Franklin HS), Lucas Nebert (Sr., Cincinnati, OH/Wyoming HS), Kellen Peters (Jr., Forest Grove, OR/Forest Grove HS/Pacific University) and Taylor Roholt (So., Albuquerque, NM/Sandia Prep).

"On the men's side, we have really good depth on our team," McGuirk said. "Occidental and Colorado College ran well last year and have almost all their runners back."

The women's race, which is slated to get underway at 11 a.m. (PST) on Saturday, will cover six kilometers. Athletes in the men's race, scheduled for 12 p.m. (PST), will run eight kilometers. Admission for fans is $10 per car and includes the Oregon State Park fee.

Sarah Zerzan is the defending West Region and NCAA National Champion.

Sarah Zerzan is the defending West Region and NCAA National Champion.