As of now, the West looks to be the second most dominant region in the country. Beyond the three auto qualifier positions (which at this point look fairly secure), lies a plethora of teams from California and the Northwest that all seek to punch their tickets to Pittsburgh in December. The flat and fast course at Amend Park in Billings, Montana should play host to one of the most exciting meets of the weekend. While forecasts predict chilly weather on race day, the action and competition should be red hot.
Unlike the Colorado-dominated South Central region, the West contains a bit more variety in terms of conference representation. Instead of one conference taking a majority of the spots, two conferences, the CCAA and the GNAC, hold a majority of the top 10 positions.
In sunny California, Chico State dominated once again with its 17th consecutive CCAA title, scoring 19 points. Eddie King, the top individual for the Wildcats all season, won the individual title, while all 10 of his teammates finished with all-conference honors (top 15). According to Chico State’s website, this is the first time since 2011 this has occurred.
There’s a reason these ‘Cats are ranked #4 in the nation.
Since this phenomenal effort, a lot has happened. As the Camp Fire continues to rage in Butte County, many Chico runners evacuated and left campus to escape hazardous smoke conditions. With classes canceled and the fire still going strong, the Wildcats find themselves in a difficult situation going into regionals. Despite these obstacles, this team should be fine. My Strava feed indicates that those runners traveling to regionals met at a teammate’s house in Grass Valley to regroup. Just recently, some arrived back in Chico, sporting masks to alleviate the still smoky conditions. It would be easy for a lot of teams to crumble and falter under these conditions, but Gary Towne’s squad is too well coached and has too much of a family dynamic for that to happen. Look for the Wildcats to be conducting business as usual on race day.
Further north, Alaska Anchorage edged out a close win over Simon Fraser at their conference meet. Wesley Kirui and Felix Kemboi ran nearly identical times to take the first two spots for the Seawolves. Rowan Doherty and Sean Miller finished close behind in 3rd and 4th for the Clan. Behind them, yet another pair of teammates finished together, as Tyler Jones and Dustin Nading crossed the line in 5th and 6th for the Wolves of Western Oregon, who finished 4th as a team. While both squads had impressive performances, Alaska Anchorage ended up taking the title because they were able to win at every individual battle except for the fifth man. Although the Clan’s 50 second spread was more impressive, they will need to focus on picking off Seawolf singlets as the race progresses this weekend. This is a matchup that, as stated earlier in John Cusick’s D2 review, could flip very easily with a few small adjustments.
Although I have mentioned some of the favorites, I feel the need to go more in-depth on some of the sleeper teams that could qualify outside of the three auto qualifier positions.
The 3rd squad at the GNAC championships, Western Washington looks strong and poised to qualify with an at-large bid. They finished only six points behind Simon Fraser and 14 points behind Alaska Anchorage. Jadon Olson and Eric Hamel finished in the top 10 for the Vikings while James Jasperson and Kyler Sager finished close behind in the top 15. Edward Kiolbasa rounded out the scoring, placing 16th. Their 25 second gap was by far the most impressive in the field, and Western Washington could very easily take advantage of a bad day by either SFU or Alaska Anchorage if they continue on their upward trend.
Cal State San Marcos
A surprise 2nd place finish at the CCAA Championships now has the Cougars looking to qualify to their first national championship since transitioning to the Division II ranks. San Marcos thoroughly knocked off perennial CCAA #2 Cal Poly Pomona with outstanding performances by Isayan Vahagn, Steven Terris, and Josh Litwiller, who each finished with all-conference honors. In a Chico dominated race, it’s impressive to get three all-conference finishers. They almost had four, as Shea Vavra came across the line in 17th. If they can maintain this good form into Billings, they could very well find themselves in that 1st or 2nd at-large spot.
Cal Poly Pomona
The Broncos suffered from some bad individual races to drop to 3rd at the CCAA Championships. Trystan Silva finished 16th overall as the first scorer, while Eamon Smythe, Alejandro Mariscal, and Alejandro Ambrosio finished within the top 25 to clinch the 3rd spot. Johnathon Woolf stopped the bleeding in 28th place. While obviously disappointed with their conference finish, the Broncos still look to be a strong team that could potentially qualify with a good Saturday. I expect the battle between Pomona and San Marcos to be the most intriguing of the day, as it is not guaranteed that six teams will qualify out of the region. The winner here may be the last one to punch their ticket to Nationals, while the loser packs their bags and heads home. This young Pomona squad will need all hands on deck come race day.
1. Chico State
2. Alaska Anchorage
3. Simon Fraser
4. Western Washington
5. Cal Poly Pomona
6. Cal State San Marcos
1. Wesley Kirui (Alaska Anchorage)
2. Felix Kemboi (Alaska Anchorage)
3. Eddie King (Chico State)
4. John Lawson (San Francisco State)
5. Jason Intravaia (Chico State)
Teams from the GNAC and CCAA have dominated the landscape of the West all season long. This Saturday, the best of these two conferences, along with some quality teams from the PacWest, will converge upon Amend Park in Billings, Montana to determine who comes out of this stacked region. Cold temperatures will be thawed by the hot action that should be occurring on a flat and potentially fast course.
Out of California, Chico State dominated its opponents to win its 11th consecutive conference title and remain atop the regional leaderboard. Karlie Garcia separated early and didn’t look back, winning the individual title handily for the Wildcats. Stanislaus State came up with a 2nd finish and moved back into the regional and national rankings after a couple weeks of absence. The Warriors will have their work cut out for them as a flurry of competitive GNAC teams is added into the mix.
Further north in Oregon, Alaska Anchorage took out early favorite Simon Fraser by 11 points. They were led by an impressive performance by Emma Chelimo, who took the win for the Sea Wolves. A 4th place finish by Olivia Willett and a spread of 54 seconds helped the Clan squeeze out a 2nd place finish, just four points ahead of Seattle Pacific, who looked impressive behind the 3rd place finish of Freshman Kaylee Mitchell.
Heading back to the Golden State, two teams shined out in the PacWest conference, as Point Loma and Azusa Pacific tied for the top position at 38 points each, with Point Loma taking the victory off of NCAA tiebreaker rules. These two are currently #5 and #6 in the region and were well ahead of any other conference competition. Look for them to be sleepers going into the regional match-up.
Without further ado, let us go a little more in-depth with some of the top teams.
The Wildcats are the clear-cut favorites going into this weekend. They remain at the top of the regional board and just moved into the top five nationally. Karlie Garcia has been running out of her mind all season. Look for her to be vying with Chelimo near the front. The running group composed of Alex Tucker, Nora Pizzella, Kayden Carpenter, Hayley Boynton, and Desirae Jones all finished with all-conference honors.
As of late, the ‘Cats have been faced with quite a bit of adversity. With the looming Camp Fire in Butte County creating hazardous air quality conditions over the campus, the nationals squads for both the men and women have relocated to Grass Valley while classes remain canceled. Despite the obstacles thrown their way, this group looks poised to win. Even if they don’t win, their depth will still carry them to an auto qualifier position.
The Chelimo-led Sea Wolves showed that they could be a worthy match for the Wildcats with the right adjustments. We already talked about Chelimo’s individual victory, but Nancy Jeptoo, Zenah Jepchumba, and Danielle McCormick all finished within the top 10 to help secure the victory. They also won the battles that mattered at the one, two, four and five scoring slots. They have a solid four, but will need to do more to improve upon their 1:17 spread. This will be the key to them competing for the team title.
Olivia Willett finished 4th and helped the Clan squeak out a four-point 2nd place finish over Seattle Pacific. Her teammates, Addy Townsend and Sophia Kaiser, finished 7th and 8th. It was these second and third slot battles that ultimately sealed it for Simon Fraser. If they can replicate this, they have a good shot at snagging the last auto-qualifier spot in the West.
Seattle Pacific is coming off a phenomenal 3rd place finish behind the aforementioned GNAC squads. Kaylee Mitchell is a quality low-stick who could have an outside chance at an individual berth. The key to flipping their placing with Simon Fraser will have to do with how they match up at each spot after Mitchell. They kept it close once, but they’ll have to do it again, plus even more.
1. Chico State
2. Alaska Anchorage
3. Simon Fraser
4. Seattle Pacific
5. Azusa Pacific
1. Emma Chelimo (Alaska Anchorage)
2. Karlie Garcia (Chico State)
3. Alexa Shindruk (Central Washington)
4. Eileen Stressling (Azusa Pacific)
5. Kaylee Mitchell (Seattle Pacific)