By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University women's cross country team tied for second in the 2017 NWC Women's Cross Country Preseason Poll in voting by the league's head coaches. Whitworth University, which won NWC titles in 2015 and 2016, was picked to repeat as the conference champion this season.
Whitworth received eight of nine first place votes in the poll for a total of 72 points. The Pirates claimed last year's NWC Championship with a score of 42 to edge out Willamette's score of 51. Kayla Leland of Whitworth is the top returning player from the 2016 NWC Meet after taking second place last fall. Leland went on to place third at the NCAA Division III West Regional, helping the Pirates achieve first place. She was 12th at the NCAA Championships, as Whitworth earned 17th place in the team standings.
Willamette and Linfield College each received 53 points in this year's NWC Preseason Poll. Linfield was ranked first on one ballot. The Bearcats won NWC championships in 2013 and 2014, but finished in second behind Whitworth in 2015 and 2016. Last fall, Olivia Mancl (Sr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS) led the Bearcats by winning the NWC women's individual title. Mancl graduated this spring, so WU's top returning runner is Hannah Swanson (Sr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS), who took third place a year ago on her way to recording First Team All-NWC honors.
Other key runners returning for Willamette are Jamie Smith (So., Seattle, WA/Ballard HS), Kyla Shade (So., Snohomish, WA/Snohomish HS), Emily Evans (Jr., Anchorage, AK/South Anchorage HS), and Hazel Carr (Jr., Seattle, WA/The Northwest School). Smith placed 17th in the NWC last season, while Shade finished 23rd, Evans was 26th and Carr was 29th. Willamette took fifth place as a team at the NCAA West Regional, as Mancl finished second and Swanson placed 18th. Mancl went on to take 13th place at the NCAA Championships to register All-America honors for the second year in a row. Mancl was second in the nation in 2015.
Following Willamette and Linfield in the 2017 Preseason Poll was Whitman College in fourth place with 35 points. Lewis & Clark College and University of Puget Sound were close behind the Blues in a tie for fifth place with 33 points. George Fox University was seventh with 25 points, Pacific University was eighth with 20 points and Pacific Lutheran University was ninth with nine points.
Willamette is scheduled to begin the 2017 season at the Ash Creek Invitational on Friday, Sept. 8. The event will be hosted by Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, starting at 5 p.m. (PDT). A handful of Willamette runners will compete.
2017 NWC Women's Cross Country Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Whitworth (8), 72 points, 1st place in NWC in 2016
2. Linfield (1), 53 points, 3rd place in NWC
Willamette, 53 points, 2nd place in NWC
4. Whitman, 35 points, 6th place in NWC
5. Lewis & Clark, 33 points, 4th place tie in NWC
Puget Sound, 33 points, 4th place tie in NWC
7. George Fox, 25 points, 8th place in NWC
8. Pacific, 20 points, 7th place in NWC
9. Pacific Lutheran, 9 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.