BILLINGS – The GNAC’s cross country teams hope that there is no place like home to claim a place in the national meet.
For the fourth consecutive year, the NCAA Division II West Region Championships will take place in GNAC Country. And for the second time in the last three years, Montana State Billings will host the regional meet on Saturday at Amend Park in Billings.
More than in past years, there is a lot more passes to the NCAA Division II Championships to go around. The top placing men’s teams and the next three individuals not affiliated with those teams will advance to the national meet on Sat., Nov. 19, in Saint Leo, Fla. In the women’s race, six teams will advance to the national meet. The allocations are the most of any region in Division II.
The weather should make for excellent running conditions and some exciting races. While the rest of GNAC Country suffers in rain, the forecast calls for sunny skies and a temperature of 48 degrees at race time.
In the men’s race, Alaska Anchorage will hopes to make it two in a row. The 2016 GNAC team champions, UAA won last year’s meet with a score of 55 points, finishing 24 points ahead of its CCAA powerhouse counterparts from Chico State. The Seawolves return five of their top six scoring runners from the meet. Defending regional champion Henry Cheseto placed fourth two weeks ago at the GNAC Championships. Edwin Kangogo, who placed eighth last year, enters the meet with a GNAC championship to his credit.
Simon Fraser hopes to also earn a return trip to the national meet after placing fourth last year with 107 points. The Clan’s top returning runner is Marc-Antoine Rouleau, who placed 16th last season and finished 12th at the GNAC Championships this year. Western Washington aims to place itself in the national meet picture after finishing sixth in last year’s regional with 194 points. Andrew Wise is the top returning placer from 2015, but the Vikings will be led the Isaac Derline, who placed third at the GNAC Championships.
Outside of the Seawolves’ returners, other top returning GNAC runners at the regional meet include Western Oregon’s David Ribich (11th) and Northwest Nazarene’s Isaac Mitchell (24th).
Chico State hopes to end Alaska Anchorage’s title run. The Wildcats won their 15th straight CCAA championship with a near-perfect score of 20 points. William Reyes, who placed third at last year’s regional behind two UAA runners, collected his second consecutive individual championship. Cal Poly Pomona, which placed third in last year’s regional, was second in the CCAA meet with 67 points.
In the women’s race, both Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington hope to return the regional trophy to the GNAC. After the conference claimed the 2013 (Alaska Anchorage) and 2014 (Simon Fraser) titles, Chico State won the 2015 championship with a score of 89 points. The Wildcats placed well ahead of the Vikings, who finished second with 165 points, and the Seawolves, who placed third with 201 points. Western Washington went on to also place ahead of Alaska Anchorage at the Division II Championships.
The Seawolves, who claimed their second satraight GNAC title two weeks ago, bring back the top two placers from last year’s race. Joyce Chelimo is the defending champion and hopes to overcome a late start to the season to return to the podium. She was fifth at the GNAC Championships. Last year’s runner-up, Caroline Kurgat, surged to win her first GNAC championship and is the favorite to win in Billings.
Western Washington’s top returning runner is Brittany Grant, who placed 28th at last year’s regional and finished 23rd at the GNAC Championships. Seattle Pacific and Central Washington placed fifth and sixth last year, results that would earn both team’s nationals invitations this year. Mary Charleson placed 20th at last year’s meet and placed fourth at the GNAC Championships. She has performed well in meets against the rest of the West Region. The Falcons are further bolstered by Sarah Macdonald, who placed sixth at the GNAC meet.
The GNAC’s other top returning runner is Simon Fraser’s Rebecca Bassett, who placed ninth at the regional and third at the GNAC Championships.
Chico State returns its top runner in Saide Gastelum, who placed third at the 2015 regional and was third at this year’s CCAA Championships. The Wildcats also won the CCAA team title with a score of 20 points. Cal State San Bernardino’s Laura Aceves was the individual champion. Cal Baptist, which placed fourth at last year’s regional, is the PacWest champion having scored 23 points.
The men’s 10,000-meter race will begin at 10 a.m. (Mountain) with the women’s 6,000-meter race commencing at 11:15 a.m. Live results will be available via a link on GNACSports.com and a live web stream will be available at GNAC.tv.