By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's cross country team has been picked to win its sixth consecutive Northwest Conference title in the 2017 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll, as voted by the league's head coaches. Willamette received seven of nine first place votes and 68 total points in the poll.
In 2016, the Bearcats won the NWC title with a team score of 36 for a margin of victory of 45 points over Pacific Lutheran University at 81. It was Willamette's 25th NWC title in men's cross country. The Bearcats went on to place fifth at the NCAA Division III West Regional, which was the top finish by an NWC team. Patrick Loftus (Sr., Healdsburg, CA/Sonoma Academy) of Willamette was eighth at the West Regional. He qualified for the NCAA Championships, where he finished 111th out of 278 runners.
Loftus is the top returning runner for the Bearcats. He took second place at the 2016 NWC Championships. He earned First Team All-NWC and All-West Region honors. Other top returning runners for WU are Michael Montague (So., San Diego, CA/Canyon Crest Academy) and Keith Carlson (Jr., Bainbridge Island, WA//Bainbridge HS), Ricardo Castillo-Flores (Jr./Sr., Hood River, OR/Hood River Valley HS), and Ross Enlow (So., Unalaska, AK/Unalaska HS).
Montague joined Loftus as a First Team All-NWC selection after earning sixth place at the NWC Meet. Carlson placed eighth, Castillo-Flores was 11th and Enlow was 14th, as all three runners claimed Second Team All-NWC recognition. Loftus placed seventh (First Team) and Carlson took 10th place (Second Team) in 2015.
In this year's Preaseason Poll, Pacific Lutheran was chosen to finish second. The Lutes received two first place votes and 59 points. Brad Hodkinson (Jr.) from PLU is the defending NWC individual champion.
Whitworth University was third in the voting with 46 points, while Lewis & Clark College followed in fourth with 43 points. Whitman College held fifth place in the poll with 34 points and George Fox University was sixth with 30 points. University of Puget Sound was listed seventh with 27 points, Linfield College was eighth with 18 points and Pacific University was ninth with 8 points.
Willamette will open the 2017 season on Friday, Sept. 8, when several members of the men's and women's teams will compete at the Ash Creek Invitational, hosted by Western Oregon University. The meet will be held in Monmouth, Oregon, starting at 5 p.m. (PDT).
2017 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Willamette (7), 68 points, 1st place in NWC in 2016
2. Pacific Lutheran (2), 59 points, 2nd place in NWC
3. Whitworth, 46 points, 4th place in NWC
4. Lewis & Clark, 43 points, 5th place in NWC
5. Whitman, 34 points, 3rd place in NWC
6. George Fox, 30 points, 6th place in NWC
7. Puget Sound, 27 points, 7th place in NWC
8. Linfield, 18 points, 8th place in NWC
9. Pacific, 8 points, 9th place in NWC
Note: Points were awarded on a 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches could not vote for their own team.