By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's cross country team has been picked to place fourth in the Northwest Conference according to a vote of the head coaches in the 2019 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll. All nine head coaches voted in the poll, but none could vote for their own team.
George Fox University, which tied Pacific Lutheran University for the 2018 NWC Championship, is listed first in this year's Preseason Poll. GFU received four first place votes and 53 points. Pacific Lutheran and Whitworth University tied for second place in the poll. PLU garnered three first place votes and 51 points. Whitworth also totaled 51 points and received one first place vote.
Willamette was fourth with 45 points and one first place vote in the poll. The Bearcats won six consecutive NWC titles from 2012 through 2017, and have won 25 championships overall, including 14 since 2001. In 2019, Willamette placed fifth in the NWC.
Following the Bearcats in fifth place in this year's poll was Whitman College with 39 points. University of Puget Sound was sixth with 30 points, while Pacific University was seventh with 28 points, Lewis & Clark College was eighth with 17 points, and Linfield College was ninth with 10 points.
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.
The top returning competitor for the Bearcat men's cross country team is Michael Montague (Sr., San Diego, CA/Canyon Crest Academy). Last year, Montague took third place in the individual standings at the NWC Championships. He was fifth at the NCAA West Regional, and placed 124th out of 280 runners at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. In 2017, Montague grabbed fourth place at the NWC Championships, finished 18th at the NCAA West Regional, and took 165th place at thr NCAA Championships. He has earned First Team All-NWC honors twice.
Willamette featues five returning student-athletes on the men's team. Returning along with Montague are Kellen Bulger (Sr., Spokane, WA/Ferris HS), Carson Herrick (So., Newberg, OR/Newberg HS), and Matt Ihling (So., Boise, ID/Capital HS), and Alex Matteson (So., Seattle, WA/Nathan Hale HS). Matteson was WU's fourth scoring finisher at the 2018 NCAA West Regional.
The Bearcat men's team opened the season at the Ash Creek Invitational on Friday, Sept. 6. Montague placed 11th overall in the men's 6-kilometer race and was the top finisher from NCAA Division III. Willamette will compete again on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Sundowner Invitational, hosted by Western Oregon University at 5 p.m. (PDT).
WU will host the 45th Annual Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 5 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.
2019 NWC Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. George Fox (4), 53 points, 1st place tie in NWC in 2018
2. (tie) Pacific Lutheran (3), 51 points, 1st place tie in NWC in 2018
(tie) Whitworth (1), 51 points, 3rd place in NWC in 2018
4. Willamette (1), 45 points, 5th place in NWC in 2018
5. Whitman, 39 points, 6th place in NWC in 2018
6. Puget Sound, 30 points, 4th place in NWC in 2018
7. Pacific, 28 points, 7th place in NWC in 2018
8. Lewis & Clark, 17 points, 8th place in NWC in 2018
9. Linfield, 10 points, Did not score at in NWC in 2018
Note: Points were awarded on an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches could not vote for their own team.