By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Willamette University won its sixth consecutive Northwest Conference men's cross country title on Saturday, Oct. 28, as the Bearcats earned three of the top five individual times at the 2017 NWC Cross Country Championships at Veterans Memorial Golf Course. Keith Carlson (Jr., Bainbridge Island, WA//Bainbridge HS) took second place, Michael Montague (So., San Diego, CA/Canyon Crest Academy) placed fourth, and Ross Enlow (So., Unalaska, AK/Unalaska HS) earned fifth place for the Bearcats.
Willamette registered a winning score of 50 points with finishes of 2-4-5-16-23. Pacific Lutheran University received second place with a score of 57 and Lewis & Clark College was third at 61.
The Bearcat women's team placed fifth out of the nine teams. Hannah Swanson (Sr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS) led Willamette by grabbing third place in the individual standings. Kayla Leland from Whitworth University won the women's individual championship with a time of 21:56.0 for the 6-kilometer course. Whitworth claimed the women's team title with a score of 42 (1-5-11-12-13).
Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk was chosen as the NWC Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year for the sixth season in a row and the 13th time since 2001. Toby Schwartz of Whitworth was chosen NWC Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Brad Hodkinson from Pacific Lutheran won the men's individual title as he completed the 8-kilometer race in 25:13.4. Carlson was second in 25:27.1, and Jeffrey Mullins from Lewis & Clark was third at 25:33.2. Montague was the fourth runner to reach the finish line and was clocked at 25:43.9 Ross Enlow followed in fifth place at 26:00.1.
"I am very happy with my race," Carlson said. "Trusting the process the coaches have laid out for the program got me to this point. It meant a lot to me to see what my coaches and teammates could push me to do."
Enlow narrowly edged out Blake Slattengren of Lewis & Clark, who took sixth place in 26:00.4. Sean Richardson, also from L&C, was seventh in 26:02.5. The top seven finishers earned First Team All-NWC honors, including Carlson, Montague and Enlow for the Bearcats.
"Seeing Michael and Ross coming in fourth and fifth was amazing," Carlson added. "I crossed the line and turned around and was immediately greeted by Michael, which was great to see. I knew Michael was going to be right behind me. He ran a great race. Then seeing Ross finish was more exciting just because he out-sprinted a bunch of guys right at the line. Michael and I were yelling and cheering him on, and Ross took the challenge head-on and beat them right at the line. Then seeing all of my other teammates fight hard to the line was really cool."
Willamette's next two finishers contributed to the team score, as they provided the results needed to regain the team title. Ricardo Castillo-Flores (Jr./Sr., Hood River, OR/Hood River Valley HS) was 16th overall with a time of 26:48.5. Kellen Bulger (So., Spokane, WA/Ferris HS) finished in 23rd place at 27:03.8.
Also competing for the Bearcat men's team were Jack Kobylka (Sr., Napa, CA/Vintage HS), Robbie Melhorn (Jr., Bangkok, Thailand/International School Bangkok) and Max Frankel (Fr., Richmond, VA/Maggie L. Walker Governor's School). Kobylka was timed at 27:46.5, while Melhorn reached the finish line in 27:54.0 and Frankel earned a time of 28:21.6.
"Winning the sixth consecutive title was really important to us," Carlson commented. "We had an alum come and cheer us on, and seeing him really inspired me because he started this streak of six titles and I didn't want him to see it end here. We all knew what we were capable of, and we were all very proud of ourselves for putting everything on the line and coming out with a great result."
In the women's race, Leland took first place by 27.4 seconds. Kaelia Neal from Linfield College placed second in 22:23.4 and Swanson gained third place for Willamette in 22:29.6. Courtney Beard of Linfield was fourth in 22:34.6 and Whitney Rich from Whitman College placed fifth in 22:39.1
Sixth place went to Serena Wallace, who ran for Pacific University and registered a time of 22:41.0. Emma Knudson from Linfield took seventh place in 22:43.6. The top seven runners were named First Team All-NWC.
Kyla Shade (So., Snohomish, WA/Snohomish HS) was the second Bearcat to reach the finish line in the women's race. She was 19th overall in 23:53.9. Emily Evans (Jr., Anchorage, AK/South Anchorage HS) placed 28th for Willamette in 24:17.8. Hazel Carr (Jr., Seattle, WA/The Northwest School) was timed at 24:39.6 in 33rd place. Risa Schutz (Fr., Redmond, WARedmond HS) completed the race in 25:03.0, and Maggie Chapin (So., Buffalo, WY/Buffalo HS) was clocked at 26:02.9
"The women ran very well," Swanson said. "Individually, my goal for my last conference race was to run with confidence and have fun with it. The Northwest Conference is full of talented women this year, and I feel very lucky to run with competitors who helped push me to a third place finish. As a senior, I am trying to soak up these last moments of the cross country season with my team. This program has given me so much, so going out there and doing my best to represent Willamette is what I hope to do with my last couple races as a senior."
The men's team standings featured Willamette (50), Pacific Lutheran (57) and and Lewis & Clark (61) in the top three positions. Whitworth was fourth at 107, while Whitman College and George Fox University tied for fifth place at 133. Linfield was seventh at 196, with Pacific in eighth at 201, and Puget Sound in ninth at 232.
Whitworth's score of 42 topped the women's team standings. Linfield took second place at 61 and Puget Sound was third at 92. Whitman claimed fourth place at 111 and Willamette placed fifth at 129. George Fox was sixth at 136, while Lewis & Clark was seventh at 169. Pacific placed eighth at 204 and Pacific Lutheran finished ninth at 223.
Up next for Willamette will be the 2017 NCAA Division III West Regional on Saturday, Nov. 11 in Claremont, California. The first race will start at 10 a.m. (PDT). Occidental College will host the meet on the Pomona Campus Course.