WWU looks to better rankings at NCAA II nationals
Nov. 14, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - With the goal of finishing higher than their national rankings, the Western Washington University men's and women's cross country teams compete at the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championships on Saturday (11 a.m.) at the Plantes Ferry Sports Complex in Spokane.
The Viking women are 14th and the WWU men 22nd in the latest United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 polls. It is the fourth straight year that both WWU teams are competing at nationals, and the trip is the fifth consecutive for the men.
WWU finished third in the women's run and fourth in the men's race at the West Regional held on the same course as nationals on Nov. 5. Adams State is the top-ranked men's team, and Western State leads the women.
"Our goal (at nationals) is always to improve upon our rankings, but we'd like to place in the top 10 or as close as possible," said Western coach Pee Wee Halsell (25th year). "I think that's very doable on both sides."
"Both these teams are very close, not only within each squad but together - maybe the closest I've ever had."
The WWU men's and women's squads have both placed among the top 10 at nationals in each of the last three seasons. The men were ninth in 2010, fourth in 2009 and 10th in 2008, and the women were 10th in 2010, eighth in 2009 and 10th in 2008. In 2007, the men finished 11th.
Three Viking men, Nick Abraham (Sr., Sammamish/Skyline), Eric Brill (Sr., Kent/Kentwood), and Dak Riek (So., Everett/Mariner); and two women, Rachael Johnson (Sr., Yakima/West Valley) and Katelyn Steen (Fr., Sammamish/Eastlake), earned regional all-star honors by placing among the top 25 in their respective divisions at the West Regional.
Brill, who is making his fourth national appearance, finished 21st to lead the Vikings with a time of 31:52. Riek, a transfer from CC of Spokane, was 22nd and Abraham 24th.
Cannon, the team's top runner in every race prior to regionals, was ill at regionals and was not a scorer for WWU, placing 47th. Cannon, a transfer from Brigham Young, and Riek placed fifth and 10th, respectively, to earn all-star honors at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships.
Breihof, who is competing in her fourth nationals, placed ninth at the league meet to earn all-star honors. She earned All-America honors in 2009, finishing 31st at nationals.
Halsell says running nationals at Spokane should help the Vikings.
"We'll definitely have more fans there because it's relatively close. It's not quite a home course advantage, but it's close."
Spence Returns To Defend National Title
Neely Spence of Shippensburg (Penn.) will return to defend her national title Saturday in the NCAA Division II Women's National Cross Country Championships which will be held at the Plantes Ferry Sports Complex in Spokane, Wash.
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference and the Spokane Regional Sports Commission are the hosts for the meet.
Spence won the women's title last year at Louisville, Kent., covering the 6,000-meter course in a time of 20:41.2. Two weeks ago she won the Atlantic Region championship in a time of 20:43 to earn a return trip to the national meet.
Spence is one of four women who placed in the Top 10 a year ago who will run at Plantes Ferry. Also back is Lauren Kleppin of Western State (Colo.), Morgan Place of Minnesota Duluth and Ruth Keino of Alaska Anchorage.
Kleppin finished third at Louisville in a time of 21:04.5, while Place placed fifth in 21:13.9 and Keino finished seventh in 21:20.9. In this year's regionals, Kleppin finished first (22:13) and Place was 13th (23:31) in the Midwest Regional, while Keino won the West Regional title in a time of 20:51. UAA's Miriam Kipng'eno, who finished third in the West Regional in a time of 21:25, finished 12th a year ago in a time of 21:40.2.
The top returning 2010 finisher in the men's meet will be Isaac Chavez of Chico State who placed fifth in a time of 31:00.8. Two weeks ago in Spokane, Chavez finished second in the West Regional in a time of 30:20, just one second back of winner Micah Chelimo of Alaska Anchorage. Chelimo was 21st in the 2010 national meet in a time of 31:18.2
Adams State (Colo.) and Grand Valley State (Mich.) are the defending men's and women's national team champions.
Adams State will be seeking is fourth straight men's title and is the No. 1 ranked team in the latest USTFCCCA Division II national poll. Western State (Colo.), Grand Valley State and Colorado Mines are ranked second, third and fourth.
Alaska Anchorage, which is one of three teams along with Western Oregon and Western Washington representing the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in the men's championships, is ranked fifth. WOU is ranked 20th and WWU is ranked 22nd.
Grand Valley, which ended a seven-year title run by Adams State last season, is ranked second in the women's national poll in back of Western State. Adams State is ranked third and West Region champion Alaska Anchorage is ranked fourth.
Joining the Seawolves in Saturday's race from the GNAC will be 14th ranked Western Washington and 19th ranked Alaska Fairbanks.
The GNAC will also be represented in the men's race by Barak Watson of Northwest Nazarene and Kyle Van Santen of Saint Martin's who qualified as individuals by placing third and seventh, respectively, in the regional meet in times of 30:23 and 31:10.
Saturday's championships begin at 11 a.m. with the women's 6,000-meter race. The men's 10,000-meter race will begin at noon.
Breihof eyes All-American standard, again
Andrew Lang, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Two years ago, Western Washington University cross country runner Lauren Breihof accomplished an impressive feat she herself admits she didn't expect.
As a sophomore in 2009, Breihof finished in 31st place at the NCAA Division II National cross country meet in Indiana. It was a result good enough to qualify as an All-American runner.
"It was definitely a cool feeling," Breihof said in a phone interview. "Mostly, I didn't expect it that year. That race, I didn't really have that goal in mind."
Now as a senior competing in her final cross country race as a Viking, besides helping her team crack the top 10 in the NCAA Division II national rankings, qualifying as an All-American for the second time is the only goal on Breihof's mind when Western competes in the NCAA Division II National meet on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Spokane's Plantes Ferry Sports Complex.
For the fourth straight year the Western women's cross country team has qualified for nationals, and each year Breihof has been an integral piece in WWU's success.
"She has been that anchor for us," Western cross country coach Pee Wee Halsell said in a phone interview. "She hasn't been our top runner in every meet, but she is our captain. She leads by example and gets good performances even on her bad days."
All four years Breihof has run for Western, she's qualified for the national meet. But her sophomore year finish at nationals was the only season Breihof can claim she was an All-American.
In order to qualify as an All-American, runners must place in the top 40. It's a cutoff point Breihof nearly reached during the two national meets she ran during her freshman and junior years.
As a freshman Breihof finished in 53rd place, and last year she took 49th place.
"I know that (Breihof's) expectation is to be an All-American, and that's what I know she wants to do," Halsell said. "She is capable, and I know she will be right there around that top 40."
One positive on Breihof's side is her familiarity with the nationals course.
The national meet is at the same site the Vikings ran regionals, and although Breihof was hoping for a better result than her 30th-place finish, she believes what she learned about the course at regionals will benefit her at nationals.
"It was really cold at the regional meet, and I got a bad side ache," Breihof said. "I think it was the cold air on my legs, which made my muscles swell up. (At nationals) I'm going to wear warm pants and warm up closer in time to the start. It will definitely help having run there already. And in terms of knowing the course, there will be no surprises for me. Having nationals in Spokane is cool because I will have so many of my teammates, family and friends there."
While Halsell believes Breihof has a strong chance to finish her career as an All-American, it's been his senior captain's work ethic and enthusiasm to train that has impressed Halsell the most.
"Lauren just has this steadfastness about her and has a willingness to run and do what ever it takes to be a champion," Halsell said.
Breihof's eagerness to run and train enables her to record strong times during meets, but running also serves as an outlet the senior captain uses to channel stress in her life.
"I guess it really comes down to really loving the sport," said Breihof, referring to why she has a passion for training. "When everything else is stressful, running kind of is my break from everything. Seeing the work you put in and then what you get out of it feels good."
While Breihof has been steadily watching her work pay off during her career, this year is the first season Breihof has had the opportunity to become Western's top female runner.
After Western standout runner Sarah Porter's career came to a close last year, Breihof took over the role as the Vikings' lead runner and captain.
Initially Breihof had reservations about her newfound role.
"It's actually kind of funny, because last year I didn't really know if I wanted to be a captain," Breihof said. "I like to be by myself sometimes, and I am kind of independent. Knowing how (Porter) was a leader, it felt natural for me to step up into that position. I really enjoy being a captain with Mary Rogers, our other captain. Three of our top seven (runners) are freshmen, so it's nice to be able to lead the way."
Breihof has missed the presence of Porter this year as the two often trained together, but Breihof is looking forward to turning in a strong performance as Porter did in her final meet as a Viking at nationals.
"We lived together and ended up being really close," Breihof said. "In terms of workouts, she was more ahead of me, but we did a lot of running together. We'd always joke about being running sole mates. We kind of ran the same pace. It's been hard not having her this year, but I look forward to seeing her over the winter."
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