The Great Northwest Athletic Conference currently has four teams represented within the top 25 rankings nationally. That is second amongst all conferences behind only the juggernaut that is the RMAC (five teams represented). These four teams also make up the top six of the latest regional rankings. The addition of Northwest Nazarene in the 10th spot means that five of the top 10 West region teams hail from the great Northwest.
It’s safe to say this weekend will be fun to watch.
So far Simon Fraser has distanced itself from the rest of the pack. The Clan comes off a successful Lewis Crossover meet that saw them finish 3rd behind #2 ranked Western State and #7 ranked Queens (NC). Their most recent competition at the WWU Classic saw SFU beat out Alaska Anchorage by 11 points. Although they don’t have a clear-cut low-stick, they are not without talent.
The duo of Rowan Doherty and Pierre-Louis Detourbe have finished as a solid 1-2 combo for most of the season. At the WWU classic, the pair finished 4th and 5th, respectively, with times of 32:07 and 32:10 over the 10k course.
Not far behind were Sean Miller (7th) and Carlos Vargas (8th) who both dipped under 32:20. Aaron Ahl closed the scoring with a 19th place, 32:55 effort.
Although they have been impressive so far, Simon Fraser will need to keep up their consistency in order to win this weekend. Alaska Anchorage is dangerous and deep enough to take advantage of a rare bad day from the Clan.
This is where the Seawolves come in.
So far this season, Alaska Anchorage hasn’t had too much of a chance to show off against quality regional and national competition. Their only opportunity was WWU where they impressed, but still came up short to SFU. Felix Kemboi and Wesley Kirui swept the first two positions, running 31:40 and 31:51, respectively. Those are two guys that could both go for the individual win on Saturday at Ash Creek Preserve in Monmouth.
Behind them, four Simon Fraser scorers crossed the line before Anchorage’s third and fourth men. They will need those two, Nickson Koech and Jorge Sanchez, to break up and beat out Simon Fraser in those three and four spots.
The depth issue for the Seawolves is also shown in the fifth position, as junior Korta Kaleb finished 34th, well back from his teammates. Despite all this, Alaska Anchorage only lost by 11 points. If they can close their 1-5 gap and be more competitive in the battles for the third and fourth scorers, this could shape up to be a very close race.
Western Washington looks like another team that could perform well this weekend. The Vikings have jumped up and down the regional and national rankings all season. At the Lewis Crossover meet, they finished 8th, edging out fellow conference foe Western Oregon on a tiebreaker.
At their home invitational, Western Washington finished 3rd behind the aforementioned teams above. Eric Hamel has taken the lead for WWU this season, followed by Edward Kiolbasa and James Jasperson. Although their spread and pack are a little too sparse for me to confidently think that they will vie for the win on Saturday, they have enough tools for me to guess that they will have a good duel with Western Oregon for the final podium spot.
Much like Western Washington, Western Oregon’s standing has fluctuated as the season has progressed. Dustin Nading is a legitimate contender and Tyler Jones has had flashes of brilliance this year as well, highlighted by an 11th place finish at Lewis Crossover. The issue is that they do not have enough depth for anybody to have a bad day on Saturday. Their fifth man was a distant 99th at Lewis Crossover, and despite beating out Western Washington in the first two spots, the Wolves were handed a loss after faltering at the third, fourth, and fifth spots.
Granted, I do believe that Dustin Nading had a bad day, and should be more on his game this weekend. If that happens, and the backend runners move up throughout the race, Western Oregon could very easily sneak into the top three.
What could shake up the results this weekend is the venue switch. For the past three years, the Vikings have hosted the championships at their home course at East Lake Padden Park in Bellingham. This year, the course will be hosted by Western Oregon at Ash Creek Preserve, the site of last year’s regional championships. In a matchup that could prove to be very close, a level of comfort and familiarity with this course might be enough to give Western Oregon an advantage over the Vikings for 3rd place.
It’s like the old saying goes: “There’s no place like home.”
1. Simon Fraser Clan
2. Alaska Anchorage Seawolves
3. Western Oregon Wolves
1. Felix Kemboi (Alaska Anchorage)
2. Dustin Nading (Western Oregon)
3. Rowan Doherty (Simon Fraser)
4. Tyler Jones (Western Oregon)
5. Wesley Kirui (Alaska Anchorage)