The WWU Cross Country Team // Photo courtesy of the Jenna Martin
Western’s men’s and women’s cross country teams ran away with a pair of first place trophies at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships in Billings, Montana on Saturday, Oct. 26.
“Just an amazing day to be a Viking,” said Western head coach of 33 years Pee Wee Halsell. “The team ran as a unit, just like they have done all year, but today was even more impressive. They overcame some tough elements to start fast and finish strong. To claim both team titles is something really special and we are going to celebrate this.”
The men’s team added its fifth first place trophy to the Western collection and first since the 2009 season. The women’s team added its first GNAC title in the program’s history and first in the 19 year history of cross country championships.
In the 19 year history of the event, Western joins University of Alaska Anchorage as the only two teams to win both the women’s and men’s first place titles in the same year. UAAwon top honors the previous seven times.
The women’s Vikings pulled in a team score of 53, to beat the four-time defending champions UAA by seven points, and claim the title from a team that won the last nine out of 10 titles coming into the 2019 season.
The women’s team had all five of their scoring runners finish in the top 15, only separated by a total of 26 seconds. Junior Jane Barr (8th), sophomore Rebecca Lehman (9th), senior Tracy Melville (10th), senior Sophia Galvez (11th), sophomore Tovah Swartz-ireland (15th) were all scoring runners for the Vikings.
Additionally, junior co-captain Talia Dreicer earned a top 20 finish, while senior Aundrea Koger finished 21st.
Barr, Lehman and Melville earned All-GNAC honors for placing in the top 10.
“It was a huge shock and excitement for the girls team, as it was the first time the women’s cross country team have won GNAC at Western,” said Barr. “Overall, I think having both the girls and guys taking home conference titles just made the day even better as it truly felt like the team was united as a whole by accomplishing something together.”
The men’s Vikings earned their fifth team first place title, and first since it won in 2009. The team dominated with a low score of just 38, half of what the second place team Simon Fraser University (76) scored.
Senior James Jasperson (4th), junior Ed Kiolbasa (5th), freshman Deyago Peraza (6th) and senior Liam Cossette (7th) all finished in the top 10 to earn All-GNAC honors. Additionally, senior Eric Hammel finished 16th, while junior Colton Hoggarth finished 18th.
Peraza, a freshman from Edmonds-Woodway High School, was a possible redshirt freshman earlier in the year. After finishing 10th at the WWU Classic two weeks ago, Peraza was added to the team’s travel roster and after finishing 6th in the GNAC championship, he was awarded the GNAC Freshman Of The Year award.
“For both men and women to get the win today is phenomenal, women for the first time ever, and men for the first time in 10 years. We were ready and really wanted it,” Jasperson said. “We ran as a pack. That’s our strength, keeping a pack tight and have a close spread of guys. We run high mileage at Western. Our strong suit is post-season racing when we finally cut down mileage and start feeling good. We’re ready for regionals.”
The Western men’s track and field and cross country programs have now won the last three team titles, with the Vikings winning the 2019 Indoor Track and Field and Outdoor Track and Field Championships earlier in 2019.
The Vikings will head to the NCAA Division II West Regionals on Nov. 9 at Ash Creek Preserve in Monmouth, Oregon. After that, the NCAA Division II Championships will be held Nov. 23 at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, California.
“ I believe there is a lot still left in this team heading into regionals and hopefully nationals. They are a driven, determined team that today can call themselves all GNAC Champions,” said Halsell.