By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University cross country runners will be in action at the 2016 Northwest Conference Championships on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Willamette Mission State Park near Brooks, Oregon. The 6-kilometer women's race is set for 10 a.m. (PDT), with the 8-kilometer men's race to follow at 11 a.m. George Fox University is hosting the event.
The Willamette men's team will be looking to earn its fifth consecutive NWC team championship. The Bearcat women, who placed second in the NWC last season, won their most recent NWC team titles in 2013 and 2014.
Olivia Mancl (Sr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS) of Willamette is the defending individual women's champion. Other top returning players for the Bearcat women's team are Hannah Swanson (Jr., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS), who placed 10th in the NWC in 2015, and Ami Boucher (Sr., Concord, CA/Northgate HS), who took 23rd place.
Five of the top 10 women's finishers at last year's NWC Championships are back this season. In addition to Mancl and Swanson, other top returning competitors include Allison Wood of Whitworth University (5th in 2015), Stephanie Spencer from Pacific University (6th) and Kealia Neal of Linfield College (9th).
Among newcomers, Kayla Leland of Whitworth is a contender to finish among the leaders. She has been named NWC Women's Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Week three times this season.
At this year's Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational on Oct. 1, Mancl was third and Leland finished fourth. Swanson took 11th place, while Wood earned 23rd place and Boucher was 28th. All were impressive finishes in a field of 189 runners.
Patrick Loftus (Jr., Santa Rosa, CA/Sonoma Academy) from Willamette, who placed seventh in the men's race a year ago, is the Bearcat's top returning men's runner. Keith Carlson (So., Bainbridge Island, WA//Bainbridge HS) also returns after placing 10th in the NWC as a freshman last fall. Jack Kobylka (Jr., Napa, CA/Vintage HS) was 28th in last year's race.
Ryan Morris-McDermott (So., Orinda, CA/Miramonte HS), who transferred to Willamette from Occidental College, adds to Willamette's strength in the men's competition. He was the Bearcats' top finisher in 19th place out of 168 runners at the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational. Ricardo Castillo-Flores (So./Jr., Hood River, OR/Parkdale HS) also joined the Bearcats this year after competing at Lane Community College.
Robbie Melhorn (So., Bangkok,Thailand/International School Bangkok) earned WU's top result at the Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon earlier this season. Loftus recorded the top time for Willamette at the prestigious UW-Oshkosh Kollege Town Sports Invitational in Winneconne, Wisconsin, on Oct. 15,
Loftus and Carlson are two of four returning athletes from last year's top 10 finishers in the NWC. Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski from University of Puget Sound placed second, and Brad Hodkinson of Pacific Lutheran University was fourth.
Hodkinson was the first NCAA Division III athlete to reach the finish line at the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational on Oct. 1. He took fourth place. Liam Monheim of Lewis & Clark College was the second Division III finisher and Loftus was the third Division III runner to complete the course.