Willamette Cross Country Teams Prepare for NCAA National Championships

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University men’s and women’s cross country teams are preparing to run at the NCAA Division III National Championships, set for Saturday, Nov. 17, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. Both of Willamette’s teams were automatically qualified for the National Championships by winning West Region titles.

Willamette enters the National Championships with the Bearcat women’s team ranked #6 in NCAA Division III and the Bearcat men’s team ranked #7. Senior women’s runner Sarah Zerzan (San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS) is the defending NCAA Division III individual national champion.

“We need to go do what we’ve been doing,” said Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk. “The guys have been running together in a pretty tight pack all year long. For the ladies, Maddie Coffman has really run well enough to be a solid #2 for us at the national level. And the other women have been working together to close the gap on our front runners.”

Although his teams are ranked in the Top 10, McGuirk isn’t focusing on trying to finish in a particular place in the team standings. According to McGuirk, if his teams run well, the standings will reflect their efforts.

“We can’t really worry about the other teams,” McGuirk said. “We just have to concentrate on running our best races on Saturday.”

At the National Championships, the women’s 6-kilometer race will be held first at 11 a.m. (CST)/9 a.m. PST). The 8-kilometer men’s race will follow at 12 p.m. (CST)/10 a.m. (PST).

“Everyone understands the opportunity we have in front of us,” McGuirk said. “We have several juniors and seniors who have experience at the national championship level and they’re looking forward to it.”

Sarah ZerzanZerzan is the defending national champion and has put together a great season, but that doesn’t mean she has a clear path to a second title. Only two athletes have claimed more than one NCAA Division III individual national championship in its 26-year history.

“We talk about it like this: Statistically speaking, returning champions have rarely repeated that feat. There is no pressure on her to do it again,” McGuirk added.

As a result, Zerzan’s efforts have been focused on the team’s potential. If she runs a great race, another national title is a possibility, but she’s more concerned with helping the Bearcats finish high in the team standings.

“She’s running for the team and the highest place she can get.” McGuirk said. “If she runs her best, it will help the team.”

Joining Zerzan in the women’s race for Willamette will be six other runners. Coffman (Jr., Boise, ID/Boise HS), who took second place behind Zerzan at the West Regional, has continued to improve throughout the season and has a chance to be toward the front of the race. Jena Winger (Jr., Bonney Lake, WA/Sumner HS) also has been strong this season.

Rounding out the WU women’s roster for the National Championships are a senior, two juniors and a sophomore. They are Carly Killam (Sr., Kailua, HI/Punahou 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).

Ian Batch (Sr., Eagle, ID/Capital HS), who placed fifth at the West Regional, will lead the Willamette men’s team at the National Championships. Also running for the Bearcats will be Lucas Nebert (Sr., Cincinnati, OH/Wyoming HS), Josh Clough (Jr., Auburn, WA/Auburn Riverside HS), Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (Jr., Juneau, AK/Juneau-Douglas HS), Kellen Peters (Jr., Forest Grove, OR/Forest Grove HS/Pacific University), Lucas May (So., Portland, OR/Franklin HS) and Taylor Roholt (So., Albuquerque, NM/Sandia Prep).

This year, Willamette leads a very strong contingent from the West Region that includes three teams and seven individual runners representing the region in each race. Men’s teams will run for Willamette, Occidental College and Colorado College. Women’s teams qualified from Willamette, the University of Puget Sound and Colorado College.

“This is one of the best years I’ve seen for the West Region,” McGuirk said. “Sarah is a national contender for the women and there are a few national contenders on the men’s side, too. Some of the top runners in the nation are in this region. We should have a strong showing.”

NCAA Division III Women's Cross Country - National Rankings (Nov. 14, 2007)
NCAA Division III Men's Cross Country - National Rankings (Nov. 14, 2007)

Ian Batch leads the Willamette men's cross country team into the National Championships. The Willamette women's team also will compete.

Ian Batch leads the Willamette men's cross country team into the National Championships. The Willamette women's team also will compete.