Bearcats are Ready to Compete at NWC Track and Field Championships

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University track and field teams will send a large group of athletes to Forest Grove, Ore., this weekend for the Northwest Conference Track and Field Championships. Competing for the Bearcats will be 40 men and 27 women, with both teams entered in every event.

Action at Lincoln Park Stadium is set to get underway on Friday, April 24 at 2 p.m. (PDT) with the first day's final event scheduled to begin at 7:10 p.m. The meet will continue on Saturday, April 25, with events slated from 10:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Willamette's ability to fill the overall lineup is a plus as the Bearcats battle for team titles. More importantly, Willamette has quality competitors throughout the two-day schedule, giving the 'Cats an excellent chance to be among the leaders when the meet ends on Saturday. The Willamette women should challenge for their eighth consecutive NWC title. The Bearcat men's team seeks its sixth NWC championship since 2002.

WU Head Coach Matt McGuirk has told his team to think of the NWC Championships as "just another track meet." He has been able to take a less stressful approach because his athletes have been consistently strong so far this spring.

"Our kids have competed well all season," McGuirk said. "I don't see why that should change."

The battle for the NWC men's title should be a fierce competition between defending champion Whitworth University and Willamette, Linfield College and George Fox University. Those same four teams, plus an improved squad from Pacific Lutheran University, have the talent to challenge for the top of the women's scoreboard.

"We have people who have an opportunity to score in almost every event," McGuirk said. He added that Willamette isn't alone, as "a lot of the events have several schools in the top eight" based on seeding times.

Many of the events will feature head-to-head action from Willamette, Whitworth and Linfield.

"In a lot of our key events, they have some good people," McGuirk noted.

A good example is the women's 1,500, where Willamette has several top runners, including Maddie Coffman (Jr., Boise, ID/Boise HS), Jena Winger (Sr., Bonney Lake, WA/Sumner HS) and Kimber Mattox (Fr., Bend, OR/Bend HS/Cornell Univ.), who will receive competition from Marci Klimek of Linfield.

The Willamette men's team remains solid in the distance events and has improved in other areas from a year ago. The team has a stronger presence in the sprints, with the chance to score points. In the throws, virtually every WU athlete seems to have elevated his performance this year.

"They just got better," McGuirk said of his throwers. "All of those guys have really improved."

Each men's team and each women's team is allowed to use three wild cards to enter athletes who have missed the NWC qualifying marks. McGuirk and his staff chose to enter athletes with marks near the qualifying standards in events that were short on overall entries.

For the WU women, Megan Horning (So., Page, AZ/Page HS) and Kaitlin Greene (Fr., Pullman, WA/Pullman HS) were added in the 800-meter run. Horning also was placed in the 1,500-meter run. For the Bearcat men, Trevor May (So., Florence, OR/Siuslaw HS) was included in the high jump, while Grant Piros (Sr., Newberg, OR/Newberg HS_ and Raymond White (Fr., Corona, CA/Centennial HS) were added in the long jump.

With 21 events for each team and multiple athletes from Willamette competing in most events, it's a challenge to keep up with the action. It may be difficult, but McGuirk makes preliminary plans for the meet based on seed times. As the meet progresses, he uses actual results to adjust his predictions and to determine strategy in the running events.

"You have to pay attention to a lot of things and be good at math," McGuirk said about keeping up with the team scoring.

The heptathlon and the decathlon have been completed. Both were held April 13-14 in Tacoma, Wash., at the NWC Multi-Event Championships. Following the multi-events, Willamette leads the women's team standings with 12 points. George Fox has 11 points, the University of Puget Sound has 10 points, Linfield has 5 points and Whitworth has 1 point.

The men's team standings after the decathlon show Linfield in first place with 21 points, followed by George Fox with 11 points, Willamette with 6 points and Whitworth with 1 point.

Jacob Monroe has achieved a provisional qualifying mark for the NCAA Championships in the hammer throw.

Jacob Monroe has achieved a provisional qualifying mark for the NCAA Championships in the hammer throw.

Brooke Smith placed second in the heptathlon at the NWC Multi-Event Championships on April 13-14.

Brooke Smith placed second in the heptathlon at the NWC Multi-Event Championships on April 13-14.

Grant Piros has achieved an NCAA provisional qualifying throw of 202-9 in the javelin this season.

Grant Piros has achieved an NCAA provisional qualifying throw of 202-9 in the javelin this season.

Maddie Coffman, who placed fourth in the NCAA in cross country, ranks second in the nation in the 5,000-meter run this spring.

Maddie Coffman, who placed fourth in the NCAA in cross country, ranks second in the nation in the 5,000-meter run this spring.