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WWU track and field gearing up for strong finish

The Vikings closing outdoor season with high hopes to continue their GNAC title streak

Austin Seals leaps over a hurdle at the Husky Classic on Feb. 10, 2024, at Dempsey Indoor in Seattle, Wash. Seals placed 11th in the 60-meter hurdles. // Photo by Rio Giancarlo, courtesy of WWU Athletics.

The Vikings aim to wrap up their outdoor track and field season with their seventh and eighth consecutive Great Northwest Athletic Conference titles for both the men and women.

Western will host their only home meets of the year, the Ralph Vernacchia Invitational on Saturday and the GNAC Multi Championships on Monday to Tuesday.

Western competed at Central Washington University on Saturday for the Wildcat Invitational, where the team took 1st and 2nd place for the men’s and women’s teams, respectively. CWU took home 1st for their women’s team, and 2nd for their men’s team.

“We’re excited about having almost a rival in CWU, and them pushing us to our next level,” head coach Ben Stensland said. “It’s not fun when it's easy.”

CWU is one of WWU’s strongest challengers in the conference. The Wildcats were named GNAC team of the week at the beginning of April after putting up 27 GNAC top five event performances at the Texas Relays and the Bobcat Invitational.

On March 30, CWU’s 4x100-meter relay team set a conference-leading time of 41.34, only to be topped by the Vikings a week later when WWU broke a longstanding school record with a 41.28 at the Emilie Mondor Invitational.

“We want to be a program that loves to compete and loves to be challenged,” Stensland said. ”With challenge comes growth.” 

The Ralph Vernacchia Invitational and the GNAC Multi Championships are the only home meets of the season for the Vikings.

“I’ve historically done super well at home,” fifth-year year Ryan Greenwalt said. “My parents always come up for the home meet, and they volunteer to help out. They specifically pick to do long jump, so usually, my dad’s raking the pit and my mom’s the one measuring, so that adds an extra reason to perform.”

In 2023, Greenwalt took first in long jump at the Ralph Vernacchia Invitational with a career-best mark of 7.13 meters. 

Stensland echoed the significance of hosting a home meet saying, “people just tend to perform really well at our home meets, and everyone actually gets to sleep in their own bed.”

Ryan Greenwalt 1.jpg
Ryan Greenwalt soars across the long jump pit at the Oregon Preview, on Feb. 23, 2024, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Greenwalt placed first in the long jump with a mark of 6.97 meters. // Photo by Jacob Thompson, courtesy of WWU Athletics.

Western has broken eight school records so far this season, including a shattering near 13-second improvement in the men’s 5000 meters by third-year Kevin McDermott.

“The coaching staff does a good job of setting people up to peak when they need to, so we tend to have our best performances at the championships,” Western strength and conditioning coach, Damien Fisher said. “That's been a big contributor to our conference success this past year.”

The team has been on a historic run. Over the past year, they have swept the GNAC Championships in both men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, cross country, and indoor track. They are looking to capture another outdoor championship in early May. 

“The best time is during GNAC [championships] when everyone is together,” second-year Western athlete Austin Seals said. “Everyone is going for that trophy, and we’re all just ecstatic for each other.”

Seals transferred to WWU last year from Colorado State University, and he currently specializes in the decathlon. 

“The most telling thing about our community is that I transferred, came in knowing no one, and I fit right in. I was accepted right away and found a friend group easily within everyone,” Seals said. “I get that unique perspective because as a decathlete, I get to see each and every event group.”

If you would like to see the Vikings in person at a rare home meet, both events with be held at Civic Stadium in Bellingham Wash., on April 27, 29, and 30.

“Coming back to our values of attitude, effort and community, our strongest factor is our community," Stensland said. “We’re a squad that’s able to come together and make some special things happen, so I’m really excited about the direction we’re going.”

Aidan Fox-Bailey

Aidan Fox-Bailey is a sports and recreation reporter for The Front. He is a third-year student majoring in journalism and public relations with a political science minor. When not reporting, he enjoys watching baseball, eating delicious food and hanging out with friends. He can be reached at

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