By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's cross country team has been picked to earn its seventh straight Northwest Conference title according to the 2018 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll. The NWC head coaches voted in the poll, but could not vote for their own team.
Willamette, which won the 2017 NWC Championship with a score of 50 (2-4-5-16-23) at the Veterans Memorial Golf Course in Walla Walla, Washington. The Bearcats' string of six consecutive titles began in 2012. Willamette has won a total of 25 NWC titles since 1963.
In this year's Preseason Poll, Willamette received five of nine first place votes and 60 points. Pacific Lutheran University was second with 54 points and three first place votes. Lewis & Clark College and Whitworth University, each with 48 points, tied for third place, while L&C received one first place vote.
Whitman College was listed in fifth with 34 points, followed by George Fox University in sixth with 25 points. University of Puget Sound was seventh with 22 points, Linfield College held eighth place with 19 points, and Pacific University was ninth with 14 points.
Top returning runners for the Bearcats are Keith Carlson (Sr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) and Michael Montague (Jr., San Diego, CA/Canyon Crest Academy). At last year's NWC Championsihips, Carlson took second place over the 8-kilometer course in 25:27.1 and Montague placed fourth in 25:43.9. Each received First Team All-NWC honors. Two weeks later, Carlson finished 15th at the NCAA West Regional in 25:52.52, while Montague grabbed 18th place in 26:05.99.
Carlson and Montague qualified for the NCAA Divisioin III Cross Championships. Montague was 165th with a time of 25:50.04 and Carlson placed 188th in 25:58.39.
Other key runners who are back for Willamette this fall are Kellen Bulger (Jr., Spokane, WA/Ferris HS) and Cayce Reese (So., Lousiville, CO/Monarch HS). Bulger took 23rd place at the NWC Championships last season. Reese missed the NWC meet due to an injury.
Willamette will open the 2018 season at the Ash Creek Invitational on Friday, Sept. 7. Western Oregon University will host the meet at the Ash Creek Preserve near Monmouth, Oregon. Action is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. (PDT).
The 44th Annual Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational is set for Saturday, Sept. 29 at Bush's Pasture Park. Each year, the event is one of the largest on the West Coach with two men's races and two women's races featuring NAIA, NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III teams, plus junior colleges and club teams.
2018 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Willamette (5), 60 points, 1st place in NWC in 2017
2. Pacific Lutheran (3), 54 points, 2nd place in NWC in 2017
3. (tie) Lewis & Clark College (1), 48 points, 3rd place in NWC in 2017
(tie) Whitworth, 48 points, 4th place in NWC in 2017
5. Whitman, 34 points, 5th place in NWC in 2017 (tie-breaker won over George Fox)
6. George Fox, 25 points, 6th place in NWC in 2017 (tie-breaker lost to Whitman)
7. Puget Sound, 22 points, 9th place in NWC in 2017
8. Linfield College, 19 points, 7th place in NWC in 2017
9. Pacific, 14 points, 8th place in NWC in 2017
Note: Points were awarded on an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches could not vote for their own team.