Willamette Set to Run at NWC Cross Country Championships

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

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University's cross country teams are ready to battle it out with their Northwest Conference counterparts at McIver Park in Estacada, Ore., this weekend at the NWC Championships. The Willamette men's team is ranked #1 in the West Region, while the Bearcat women's team enters this weekend's event ranked #7 in the West Region.

The NWC Championships are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 31, with the women's 6-kilometer race slated to get underway at 11 a.m. (PDT). The men's 8-kilometer race will follow at 12 p.m.

Willamette's men's team will enter one of its deepest lineups in recent years. In addition to their Regional ranking, the Bearcats are ranked #13 nationally in the NCAA Division III Poll released by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

Leading Willamette's list of 10 runners who have earned the opportunity to compete this weekend is Matt Parker (Jr., Portland, OR/Lincoln HS). Parker finished third at the West Coast Preview at Pier Park, took second at the Willamette Grass Course Meet and helped WU claim the team title at the Mike Hodges Invitational.

Leo Castillo (So., Parkdale, OR/Hood River Valley HS) and Stefan Redfield (Jr., Sisters, OR/Sisters HS) also have provided the Bearcats with consistently solid results this fall.

Joining Parker, Castillo and Redfield on the NWC Championship course will be Kyle Kotaich (Sr., Florence, OR/Siuslaw HS), Ryan McLaughlin (Jr., Milwaukie, OR/Milwaukie HS), Chris Platano (Jr., Myrtle Point, OR/Myrtle Point HS), Nick Rebol (Jr., Cottonwood, CA/Red Bluff Union HS), Nate Smith (Jr., Colorado Springs, CO/Air Academy HS), Ben Donovan (So., Minneapolis, MN/South HS) and Kevin Aubol (Fr., Ellensburg, WA/Ellensburg HS).

Kotaich placed eighth and McLaughlin was ninth at last year's NWC Championships. Kotaich has not yet competed this fall due to injury.

Last season, Whitworth won the NWC team title by eight points over the Bearcats, who finished second. Willamette won seven straight NWC championships from 2001 through 2007.

"We weren't the favorites coming into the season," said Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk, noting that the Bearcats trailed Whitworth in the preseason West Region rankings. "We expect a good challenge at the conference meet. The guys have been very focused on getting the conference title back that they lost last year. It should be exciting."

Five of the top six finishers in last year's NWC men's race are back for 2009. The defending champion is Francis Reynolds from the University of Puget Sound. Also returning are Nick Gallagher of Whitworth (2nd in 2008), Shawn Fisher of Linfield College (3rd), Dusty Caseria of Whitworth (4th) and Aaron Jenkins of Whitworth (6th). Willamette's Josh Clough, who graduated this past spring, placed fifth a year ago.

As with the men's team, 10 runners on the women's squad have earned a spot on the roster for the Bearcats this weekend. Kimber Mattox (So., Bend, OR/Bend HS/Cornell Univ.) and Tina Patel (Jr., Bend, OR/Summit HS) lead the way.

Mattox placed sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division III Track & Field Championships this past spring. She will be competing in only her second collegiate cross country meet this weekend. Patel has consistently been one of WU's top finishers in every meet this year.

Also on the list of runners for the Bearcats this weekend are Hannah Vietmeier (Sr., Shoreline, WA/Shorewood HS), Megan Horning (Jr., Page, AZ/Page HS), Kaitlin Greene (So., Pullman, WA/Pullman HS), Sarah McSweeney (So., Petaluma, CA/Casa Grande HS), Theresa Edwards (Fr., Lake Tapps, WA/Bonney Lake HS), Stevie Gildehaus (Fr., Spokane Valley, WA/University HS), Amanda Tamanaha (Fr., Honolulu, HI/St. Andrews Priory) and Alisha Till (Fr., Richland, WA/Richland HS).

"They're ranked seventh in the Region and fifth in the conference," McGuirk said regarding the Willamette women's team. "We've had a great couple of weeks in practice. Earlier this season, everybody missed races due to sickness. For this weekend, it looks like everyone is going to be available. The goal is to finish better than our ranking. It should be a good race."

Willamette has won seven consecutive NWC women's titles (2002-08), but the Bearcats graduated Maddie Coffman, the NWC individual champion in 2008, along with Jena Winger, who took second place. Coffman earned fourth place at the NCAA Division III National Championships last year.

The top returning contender in the women's race is Marci Klimek of Linfield. She placed third behind Coffman and Winger at the NWC Championships last season.

All of the runners with have to battle the challenging course at McIver Park.

"It's kind of a tough course with rough footing," McGuirk said. "It's about who survives the longest."

Matt Parker, a junior at Willamette, has been a consistent runner for the Bearcats this season.

Matt Parker, a junior at Willamette, has been a consistent runner for the Bearcats this season.

Hannah Vietmeier will be the only senior running for the Bearcat women's team this weekend.

Hannah Vietmeier will be the only senior running for the Bearcat women's team this weekend.