COMING UP: A season that started with long solo summer runs, continued with early morning team workouts, and that included six competitions, comes to a head this Saturday for the Pacific Lutheran cross country teams. The Lutes will run at the Northwest Conference Championships set for Sunset Grove Golf Course in Forest Grove, Ore. The men's 8000-meter race starts at 11 a.m. and will be followed by the women's 6000-meter competition at noon.
MEN'S MEET NOTES: Willamette's men will look to claim their first NWC title since 2009, having been beaten by Whitworth each of the last two seasons. The two-time defending champion Pirates enter the meet with a youthful lineup that includes none of their top five runners from the 2011 campaign. Individually, Pacific Lutheran junior Alan DenAdel is the top returner in the men's race, having placed fourth in the 2011 championship race. He has been running well this season and could challenge for the individual crown. If he does win the conference title, he would be the first PLU male to do so since Ryan Pauling nipped Puget Sound's Dave Davis by one second in the 1997 conference meet. Among DenAdel's competitors for top honors are Puget Sound's Matt Klein, who most recently beat DenAdel by 17 seconds at the Lewis & Clark Invitational held Oct. 12 in Estacada, Ore. Linfield's Joe Gladow was four seconds behind DenAdel in that race. Willamette's Parker Bennett, George Fox's Joseph Pia and Pacific's Tyler Shipley could also be among several other runners at the front of the pack.
WOMEN'S MEET NOTES: Lewis & Clark is the favorite to win their third consecutive women's conference championship thanks to a season that has seen them perform well in large meets, including the Sundodger Invitational and Charles Bowles Invitational. Willamette's women, who finished second to the Pioneers each of the last two seasons, will challenge for their first crown since 2008. The women's race would appear to be wide open as both the defending champion, Lewis & Clark's Illana Livstrom, and the runner-up, Whitworth's Joy Shufeldt, have missed much of the season with injuries. Expect Emily Thomas from Lewis & Clark to step into the void as she has consistently led the Pioneers throughout the 2012 season. Another top contender is Willamette's Michaela Freeby.
ABOUT THE PLU MEN: As mentioned, Alan DenAdel is a strong candidate to step to the top of the awards podium. Senior Kolter Grigsby struggled at the 2011 meet, finishing 51st overall and fourth among the Lutes runners, and he is aiming for a better showing in his final conference meet. In fact, all of the PLU men will have to have strong performances if they are to avoid finishing at the back of the pack. Thus far this season the Lutes have not beaten any of their conference foes in head-to-head competition. Besides DenAdel and Grigsby, PLU entrants are Matt Beal, Eric Herde, Andrew Jensen, Joseph Mungai, Kyle Smith and Jordan Steves. Last year, Pacific Lutheran finished seventh in the nine-team conference meet. You would have to go back to the 2001 season to find a Pacific Lutheran men's team that finished in the upper half of the Northwest Conference championship meet, and that team placed fourth. Pacific Lutheran last won a NWC men's cross country crown in 1997, but PLU has not finished in the top three since 1999. PLU was the dominant men's program in the Northwest Conference in the 1980s and early 90s, winning nine straight championships between 1984 and 1992.
ABOUT THE PLU WOMEN: This is a very young team with four of the top five runners competing in their first season of intercollegiate cross country. Amanda Wilson and Amanda Seely have shared top runner honors throughout the season, with Lauren Knebel in the mix as well. Junior Alyssa Rowland came on at this time during the 2011 season and hopes to do the same this year. Still, the Lutes will need to race well to improve upon their seventh-place finish of a season ago. Additionally, the PLU women have yet to defeat a conference team in any of their head-to-head races. Besides the aforementioned foursome, PLU entrants are Tara Glynn, Madison Guscott, Karissa Jackson, and Chiara Rose-Witt. Pacific Lutheran last won a Northwest Conference women's cross country championship in 1995, and it has been since the 2001 season that PLU finished in the upper half at the conference meet. That 2001 team placed third. Since then, the best that the Pacific Lutheran women have done is place fifth on three occasions (2002, 2004 and 2007). PLU dominated Northwest Conference women's cross country throughout the 1980s and into the early 90s, winning 12 straight conference titles from 1981 through 1992. The last PLU runner to win an individual NWC crown was Lia Ossiander in 2000.
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