Willamette Cross Country 2012 Season Review

Men Capture 20th NWC Title, Women Earn At-Large Bid to NCAA Championships

By Timothy Walsh, Assistant Athletics Communications Director

SALEM, ORE -- From honoring a legendary head coach, to reaching an extraordinary Northwest Conference milestone, to clinching individual and team berths at the NCAA Championships, it was a typically successful fall for Willamette University's storied cross country program.

Willamette's men captured their record 20th Northwest Conference team championship, paced by an individual NWC title from Parker Bennett (Jr., Sisters, OR/Sisters HS). Bennett went on to finish sixth at the NCAA West Regional and earned a bid to compete at the NCAA Championships. At the NCAA meet, Bennett placed 97th out of 280 runners.

Head Coach Matt McGuirk was named NWC Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year for guiding the Bearcats to their ninth NWC title since 2001. It was his eighth such honor in the past 12 years.

The Bearcat women earned a second-place finish at the NWC meet and finished third at the NCAA West Regional, earning a team bid to the NCAA Championships.

Led by Michaela Freeby (So., Milwaukie, OR/Rex Putnam HS), who notched a third place NWC finish and a ninth place spot at the NCAA West Regional, Willamette's women finished 32nd overall at the NCAA Championships. Freeby was Willamette's top finisher in 142nd place out of 277 competitors.

Both teams were consistently ranked throughout the season, with the Bearcat men debuting at #28 in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Preseason Poll, while the women entered the rankings just one week later at #30. Both teams remained ranked for most of the season.

On September 29, Willamette hosted the 38th annual Charles Bowles Invitational, one of the largest cross country meets on the West Coast. Former Willamette runner, 2005 NWC Cross Country champion, seven-time NCAA track and field champion, and two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds ('06) was the honorary starter for the Cardinal Races at the meet.

At the conclusion of the Cardinal Races, a statue of legendary Willamette cross country and track and field coach Charles Bowles was dedicated. The statue, which depicts Coach Bowles holding his trademark stopwatch, stands near the finish line of Bowles Track at McCulloch Stadium.

The Bearcats also competed at the prestigious Brooks Invitational in Wisconsin, a meet that annually hosts some of NCAA Division III's top competition. Willamette's women placed eighth out of 37 teams, paced by Freeby's 20th place finish out of 500 competitors. The Bearcat men placed 11th out of 38 squads, led by a 52nd place finish from Nathan Conrad (Fr., Bothell, WA/Bothell HS).

At the NWC Championships, Willamette's men had perhaps their best meet of the season. In addition to Bennett's individual championship – the Bearcats' 24th such title – Conrad's fourth place finish also earned First Team All-NWC honors.

Yonny Castillo (Fr., Parkdale, OR/Hood River Valley HS), Kit Kingstad (Jr., Beaverton, OR/Beaverton HS), and Ben Beeler (So., San Francisco, CA/Archbishop Riordan HS) were each named Second Team All-NWC, placing eighth, 13th, and 14th, respectively.

Willamette's 20 men's NWC championships are eight more than the next highest total, which belongs to Pacific Lutheran University. No other NWC school has won more than six NWC championships.

While Freeby paced the Bearcat women at the NWC meet, Theresa Edwards (Sr., Lake Tapps, WA/Bonney Lake HS) also earned First Team All-NWC recognition with a seventh place finish.

Juliet Farnan (Fr., Lafayette, CA/Campolindo HS) finished in 11th place in the NWC, while Amanda Tamanaha (Sr., Honolulu, HI/Saint Andrews Priory HS) and Stevie Gildehaus (Jr., Spokane Valley, WA/University HS) claimed 13th and 14th place, respetively. All three were named Second Team All-NWC.

Bennett achieved individual success in the men's NCAA West Regional, hosted by Willamette at Oak Knoll Golf Course. Bennett finished in sixth place and received All-West Region honors. Conrad, who finished in 30th place, also attained All-West Region status. As a team, the Bearcats finished fourth.

Willamette's women performed well against the West's toughest competition, placing third at the Regional. Freeby again led the Bearcats with a ninth place finish. Edwards (14th place), Farnan (31st), and Gildehaus (35th) also earned All-Region honors.

Though only the top two teams from each region are guaranteed bids to compete at the NCAA Championships, Willamette's strong effort from the women's team earned the Bearcats an at-large bid.

Next season, both Willamette rosters will have a strong core of returning runners, and both will likely be favored to compete for conference and regional titles. On the men's side, the Bearcats will return all seven of their top finishers from this year's NWC meet. Five of the top seven runners for the WU women's team at the NWC meet also will return next fall.

Parker Bennett won Willamette's 24th individual NWC title, earned First Team All-West Region honors, and placed 97th at the NCAA Championships.

Parker Bennett won Willamette's 24th individual NWC title, earned First Team All-West Region honors, and placed 97th at the NCAA Championships.

Michaela Freeby, a First Team All-NWC and First Team All-West Region selection, helped WU earn a team bid to the NCAA Championships.

Michaela Freeby, a First Team All-NWC and First Team All-West Region selection, helped WU earn a team bid to the NCAA Championships.