Aug. 22, 2014
2014 GNAC Preview
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
The Western Washington University men's and women's cross country teams share the same goal of returning to the NCAA Division II National Championships this fall and bettering their performances of a year ago.
Six members of the WWU women's national squad, which placed 18th in 2013, return as do five of the men's team, which finished 20th.
"I'm very excited about the potential of both squads, the summer training has gone very well," said WWU head coach Pee Wee Halsell, who is beginning his 28th season. "It will be interesting to see how things unfold."
The Viking men have made seven straight national appearances and the WWU women have gone to nationals in five of the last six seasons. Making the goal of reaching nationals even more attainable for each is that the top six teams at the 2014 West Regional qualify. Making that possible was that three teams from the region placed among the top eight nationally in each division last fall.
Katelyn Steen (Sr., Sammamish/Eastlake), who earned All-America honors in 2013 by placing 34th at nationals, leads the WWU women. She is a three-time West Region all-star and twice a Great Northwest Athletic Conference all-star.
Her national teammates back are Taylor Guenther (Jr., Vancouver/Prairie), who placed 94th, Haley O'Connor (Sr., Sammamish/Eastlake), who has gone to nationals twice, finishing 99th in 2011 and 131st in 2013; Austen Reiter (Jr., Camas), 136th; Lillianna Stelling (So., Langley/South Whidbey), 144th; and Sofia Marikis (So., Nine Mile Falls/Lakewood), 170th.
Three more top returnees are Mikhaila Thornton (Sr., Bend,OR/Mountain View), who finished 117th at nationals in 2011, Kali Klotz-Brooks (Jr., Cheney) and Brittany Grant (So., Port Townsend).
Heading a solid group of newcomers are Nicole Bartlett (Jr., Shoreline/Shorecrest), a transfer from Santa Barbara CC, and two freshmen, Alexandria Laiblin (Oak Harbor) and Madeleine Hutchinson (Snoqualmie/Mount Si).
Last fall, Bartlett placed 13th at the California CC state championships to earn All-America honors for the second straight year.
"This is the deepest women's roster that we've had in many years," Halsell said.
Heading the WWU men are the quintet of Cory Johnson (So., Enumclaw), who made a huge jump last season, Isaac Griffith (Jr., Spokane/Lewis & Clark), Jonathan Quimby (Sr., Ferndale), Tabor Reedy (Sr., Poulsbo/North Kitsap) and Nathan Richards (Sr., Longview/R.A. Long). Johnson placed 116th at nationals, Griffith 125th , Quimby 153rd, Reedy 177th and Richards 194th.
Griffith, Reedy and Richards were West Region all-stars, and Reedy, Richards and Quimby were GNAC all-stars.
The hardest runner to replace will be graduated three-time national participant Chip Jackson. He finished 61st at nationals in 2013 and earned all-region and all-conference honors.
Expected to challenge for spots are two redshirt freshmen, Sean Eustis (Washougal) and Logan Giese (Spokane/Central Valley), and four more letter winners - Juan Castillo (Sr., Lake Stevens), Will Jones (So., Vancouver/Columbia River), Matthew Lutz (So., Bremerton/Olympic) and Ryan Peterson (So., Seattle/Garfield)
"This infusion of talent should push the group as a whole," Halsell said. "We've got a good, close squad that has the potential to be in the top 10 nationally."
WWU will host two home meets this season, beginning with its 41st annual Classic on Oct. 11 at Lake Padden Park in Bellingham and followed by the Viking Invitational on Oct. 25 at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale.