Willamette Runners to Compete at West Regional in California

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

SALEM, ORE. -- Throughout the 2009 season, the Willamette University men's cross country team has shown exceptional depth while recording several team victories, including its eighth Northwest Conference title in the past nine years. Now, as the championship portion of the schedule continues, the Bearcats look to put their depth to use again this weekend at the NCAA Division III West Regional in Claremont, Calif.

The West Regional will be hosted by Pomona-Pitzer, with the course set-up on the Pomona campus. Willamette and other West Region teams will be out to finish in the top two in the team standings to receive automatic bids to the NCAA Division III National Championships on Nov. 21 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The third through fifth place teams in each Regional will be eligible for at-large bids to the National Championships. Overall, 32 teams plus the top seven individual finishers in each Region whose teams are not selected will be chosen to compete in Cleveland.

Willamette, ranked #12 in the NCAA Division III National Poll and ranked #1 in the West Region, is among the contenders for the West Region title. Strong challenges are also expected from Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Pomona-Pitzer, Whitworth University, Colorado College and Linfield College. Pomona-Pitzer is the defending champion, but Willamette claimed the Regional title from 2002-07.

"The goal for the men's team is to get an automatic berth (to the National Championships), which means a top two finish," Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk said. "We have some of the better runners in the Region on the men's side."

Competing for the Bearcat men's team at the West Regional will be Leo Castillo (So., Parkdale, OR/Hood River Valley HS), Matt Parker (Jr., Portland, OR/Lincoln HS), Stefan Redfield (Jr., Sisters, OR/Sisters HS), Nick Rebol (Jr., Cottonwood, CA/Red Bluff Union HS), Kevin Aubol (Fr., Ellensburg, WA/Ellensburg HS), Chris Platano (Sr., Myrtle Point, OR/Myrtle Point HS) and Ryan McLaughlin (Jr., Milwaukie, OR/Milwaukie HS).

Castillo placed second at the NWC Championships on Oct. 31 with a time of 25:21.38 over the 8-kilometer course. Parker took third place in 25:24.27 and Redfield finished fourth at 25:35.76.

"A whole bunch of different guys has been in the top seven (for WU)," McGuirk said regarding the depth on the men's team. "It's been all positive. Everyone has been on the same page with nothing taking away from the collective energy."

With seven talented runners, including several who have a chance to be among the overall leaders, it won't be a surprise if several Willamette athletes are near each other as they approach the finish line. The important factor is getting the group of Bearcat runners near the individual leader of the lead pack.

"You want everybody up as close as possible," McGuirk said.

Five of the top six finishers from last year's West Regional are back this season. The defending champion is Nicholas Gallagher of Whitworth University, He won the 2008 individual title with a time of 25:01.25. Whitworth claimed the men's team title last season with a score of 67.

The Willamette women's team is ranked #8 in the West Region, but the Bearcats should be running at full strength this weekend. All of the team's top runners are scheduled to compete.

"A top five finish is certainly what we're trying to get," McGuirk said regarding the Bearcat women's preparation for the Regional.

As in the men's race, the competing women's teams must finish in the top five to be eligible for selection to the NCAA National Championships. The top two squads at the Regional will receive automatic bids to the championships, and the third-through-fifth place teams will have a chance at receiving at-large berths.

"They have to recognize who the other top runners are and where they are and keep up with them," McGuirk said.

Running at the Regional for Willamette will be Kimber Mattox (So., Bend, OR/Bend HS/Cornell Univ.), Tina Patel (Jr., Bend, OR/Summit HS), Theresa Edwards (Fr., Lake Tapps, WA/Bonney Lake HS), Kaitlin Green (So., Pullman, WA/Pullman HS), Megan Horning (Jr., Page, AZ/Page HS), Amanda Tamanaha (Fr., Honolulu, HI/St. Andrews Priory) and Alisha Till (Fr., Richland, WA/Richland HS).

Mattox was WU's top finisher in the women's race at the NWC Championships. She recorded a time of 22:33.50 to take sixth place. Patel was unable to run at the NWC Meet, but will run for the Bearcats on Saturday. Edwards ran well at the NWC Championships and took 18th in 23:25.20.

The top returning runner from last year's women's race is Mikayla Murphy from the University of California-Santa Cruz. Murphy took second place in 2008 after completing the 5-kilometer course in 21:33.57. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps won the women's team title with a score of 68.

Willamette's cross country teams both placed third at the West Regional a year ago and both were chosen for at-large bids to Nationals. The WU women claimed 15th place at the National Championships, while the Bearcat men took 27th.

Leo Castillo took second place at the NWC Championships. He helped WU win the team title.

Leo Castillo took second place at the NWC Championships. He helped WU win the team title.

Kimber Mattox finished in sixth place at the NWC Championships on Oct. 31.

Kimber Mattox finished in sixth place at the NWC Championships on Oct. 31.