Drew Farnsworth (11) brings the ball up into the box, during a game against Montana State on Nov. 9. The Vikings clinched the GNAC title with a score 1-0. // Photo by Grady Haskell
By Nolan Baker
As fall quarter winds down to a close, so too does the fall sports season. This year has been one of the most dominant fall seasons in the history of Western athletics, with five teams claiming the title of Great Northwest Athletic Conference champions. Volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s cross country and women’s cross country all took home GNAC title honors this season.
Women’s cross country won their first conference title in program history, displacing four time defending champions University of Alaska Anchorage, a rival that won nine of the previous 10 titles coming into this season’s championships. Five of the Vikings’ runners placed in the top 15 and were separated by a mere 26 seconds once they reached the finish line.
“The whole race I ran with all my teammates,” junior Jane Barr said after the Oct. 26 event at Amend Park in a snowy Billings, Montana. “Every time one of us started to get tired, one of us would surge and share the effort of working together. We all used each other and kept going.”
Barr, sophomore Rebecca Lehman and senior Tracy Melville all placed within the top-10, and earned all-GNAC honors for their efforts.
The men’s cross country team secured their fifth GNAC conference title, ending a ten-season drought that was also dominated by the University of Alaska Anchorage, who won eight of the last nine men’s team titles since Western won in 2009.
“Our strength is pack running,” senior James Jasperson said. “Everything we do is about the team and no one is focusing on their individual efforts. It is all team driven and that showed.”
The men had four top-10 finishes, with Jasperson followed closely behind by junior Ed Kiolbasa, freshman Deyago Peraza and senior Liam Cossette crossing the finish line consecutively in places 4-7. In the 88-runner field, Western had seven runners finish within the top-25.
Coach Pee Wee Halsell, who will enter his 34th season as Western’s track coach next fall, was immensely proud of both his teams’ performances this fall.
“To claim both team titles is something really special and we are going to celebrate this,” Halsell said. “They are a driven, determined team that today can call themselves all GNAC Champions.”
Both teams reached the NCAA Division II tournaments, but the men topped out at 22nd place and the women reached 17th place to finish off a successful 2019 season.
Men’s soccer also clinched the GNAC championship title with a 1-0 victory over Montana State University Billings on Nov. 9 at Robert S. Harrington Field. The Vikings were led all year by a dominant defense, finishing the regular season with eight shutout victories. The men’s team finished the regular season with a 13-4-1 record, and only suffered one loss during the conference season.
This was the third GNAC title in program history, and the first since 2008. With the GNAC title, the Vikings received an automatic bid into the 2019 NCAA Division II Championships, which was only the second appearance in that tournament in program history. They were unfortunately defeated in the second round of the tournament in a 5-0 loss to St. Mary’s University.
“This is a fantastic accomplishment for the players and I am very proud of them,” head coach Greg Brisbon said. “They deserve this and earned it. This was one of our team goals, to win the league, but not our main goal.”
Women’s soccer is still alive in their NCAA Division II Tournament, and they will play in the West Regional Championship for the fifth consecutive season on Thursday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. at Harrington Field.
The Viking women’s soccer team defeated Seattle Pacific University 2-1 in the GNAC Women’s Soccer Championships on Nov. 16 to claim their fifth conference tournament win in the eight seasons the event has existed.
“A number of players stepped up in a big way, especially our seniors, so this championship was earned by the whole team,” head coach Travis Connell said after the game. “The seniors were a huge part of today, but every player was key in today’s win, and that’s what is special.”
Western volleyball team claimed their spot on the GNAC throne on Saturday, Nov. 23 when they defeated Northwest Nazarene University.
That win cemented their third consecutive GNAC title, and their 10th in the 19-year history of the conference. The Vikings finished the regular season with a dominant 18-2 conference record and a 26-2 overall record which put them in 4th place in the NCAA Division II national standings.
Head coach Diane Flick-Williams had nothing but praise for her team.
“I am so proud of this young team winning the conference title with the huge expectations they shouldered this year. Our seniors — Joslyn [Bopray], Mae [Thungc], Kayleigh [Harper] — led this group and we are where we are because of them,” Flick-Williams said.
The last time Western athletics had this much success was in the 2012-13 academic year, when volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s indoor track, women’s golf, men’s golf and men’s outdoor track & field all won the GNAC title.
With five teams winning the GNAC in just the first quarter, look out for more dominance from Western athletics as the year goes on.