Western Washington University’s Katelyn Steen became just the second runner in school history — man or woman — to place among the top five individually, finishing fifth, and the Viking women were 12th and men 13th in the team standings, bettering their national rankings by six and 10 places, respectively, at the 2014 NCAA Division II National Cross Country Championships held Saturday, Dec. 6, at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park.
“It was amazing to watch them,” said WWU coach Pee Wee Halsell, whose women were ranked 18th and men 23rd in the final U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 polls. “I don’t think any one of them could do any more … It was great to see them perform so well. They had confidence in their training and went out and did it.”
Both courses were shortened due to extremely wet conditions.
“It was just sprinkling during the race, but we had 1-1/2 inches of rain from Friday on, probably an inch of that after midnight,” Halsell said.
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Steen completed the 5.78-kilometer women’s course in 21:20.8, 15 seconds behind winner Kendra Foley, who led a 1-2-3 finish for national champion Grand Valley State. Ballermine’s Emily Frith was fourth in the field of 249 in 21:20.8.
The only WWU runner to place better than Steen at nationals was Sarah Porter, who was second in both 2009 and 2010.
“She went for it right from the beginning and was right with the eventual champion over halfway through the race,” said Halsell of Steen, who entered the race as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and West Regional champion. “She had an amazing race that capped off an incredible cross country career.”
The Viking women placed 12th among 32 teams, finishing third among six West Region teams competing after being sixth in the regional meet.
WWU’s Taylor Guenther was 51st in 22:16.4, Haley O'Connor 98th in 22:47.6, Austin Reiter 126th in 23:09.4 and Makhaila Thornton 140th in 23:19.6.
“They all had the races of their lives,” Halsell said of his top five.
The WWU men were 13th in their 32-team field and second among six participating West Region teams after finishing fourth at regionals. The Vikings were one place better than regional champion Chico State, outpointing the Wildcats, 332 to 371.
Leading WWU as he had at the conference and regional meets was Isaac Griffith (Jr., Spokane/Lewis & Clark), who placed 54th, running the 9.65-kilometer course in 31:45.5.
Sean Eustis was 63rd in 31:54.0, Tabor Reedy 74th in 32:09.6, Nathan Richards 94th in 32:24.7 and Isaac Derline 104th in 32:29.6.
Adams State CO took the men’s title, led by individual champion Tabor Stevens (30:02.0).
Completing the WWU participants were Jonathan Quimby, 106th in 32:31.1, and Matt Lutz, 111th in 32:33.3, for the WWU men; and Brittany Grant, 216th in 24:27.0, and Sofia Marikis, 221st in 24:38.7, for the Viking women.
Steen, who placed 34th at nationals last year, O’Connor and Reedy were all making their third national appearances.
It was the sixth time and second straight for WWU since becoming a full NCAA member in 1998, that both the men’s and women’s squads were competing together at nationals.
It was the ninth trip overall and eighth straight for the Viking men, who have gone every year since 2007, and the sixth trip in seven seasons and second straight for the WWU women.