By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University track and field teams, known for their success in the steeplechase, 1,500-meter run and distance events for well over a decade, continue to look strong in those events as the Bearcats prepare for the start of the 2016 season. The Bearcats will begin their schedule by hosting the Willamette Opener on Saturday, March 5 at the Charles Bowles Track.
Last year, the Bearcats were represented at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Champonships by three runners in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase and by one competitor in the women's 1,500-meter run.
Michaela Freeby ('15), who placed fourth at the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase last spring in 10:41.61, graduated. She also placed fourth in the NCAA in the steeplechase in 2013. She earned All-America honors both seasons.
The three other athletes who ran at the NCAA Championships a year ago are back for the Bearcats. They are Taylor Ostrander (Sr., Kenai, AK/Kenai Central HS), Hannah Bressler (Sr., Oak Harbor, WA/Oak Harbor HS) and Olivia Mancl (Jr./So., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS).
Ostrander placed 13th in the steeplechase after advancing to the final for the second consecutive season. She placed 11th in the steeplechase in 2014 and was 22nd in the steeplechase in 2013. Her career-best time in the event is 10:40.86 at the Oregon Twilight in 2014.
On Willamette's all-time track and field lists, Ostrander holds top 10 rankings in three events. She is third in the steeplechase, is ranked fifth in the 5,000-meter run at 17;13.53 and is seventh in the 10,000-meter run at 38;18.48.
Bressler placed 21st at the NCAA Championships last season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She was competing at the NCAA Meet for the first time. Her top time of the season was 10:59.31, which ranks fifth on Willamette's all-time list.
Mancl finished in ninth place in the 1,500-meter run at the NCAA Championships a year ago. She was timed at 4:32.26. Her career-best time, also set last season at 4:32.12, places her fourth all-time for the Bearcats. Mancl is ninth all-time at Willamette in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:17.75 last spring.
Several returning athletes for the Bearcats experienced success at the 2015 Northwest Conference Championships. Mancl won the 1,500-meter run in 4:37.29, while Ostrander took first place in the 5,000-meter run at 18:02.53.
Maura Forbush (Jr., Hollister, CA/San Benito HS) won the women's 400-meter dash with a time of 57.83 seconds. Juliet Farnan (Sr., Lafayette, CA/Campolindo HS) prevailed in the 10,000-meter run in 38:15.72.
For the Willamette men's team, Yonny Castillo (Sr., Parkdale, OR/Hood River Valley HS) placed second at the NWC Meet in the 5,000-meter run in 15:19.09 and was second in the 10,000-meter run in 32:18.46. Jacob Shafi (Sr., Pleasanton, CA/Amador Valley HS) took third place in both the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:43.74 and the 5,000-meter run in 15:25.83.
Other top three finishes by the Bearcats included Ostrander taking second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 10,000-meter run, Farnan placing third in the 5,000-meter run and Mancl earning third place in the 800-meter run. Hannah Swanson (So., Seattle, WA/Roosevelt HS) placed second in the 1,500-meter run.
Another key returning athlete for the Bearcats is Hans Lehndorff (Sr., Boulder, CO/Boulder HS). Two years ago, Lehndorff won the conference title in the men's hammer throw with a toss of 144'9" at the NWC Championships. Last spring, Lehndorff achieved fifth place in the discus at 143' 6".
The Willamette Opener will begin with field events starting at 10 a.m. (PST) on Saturday. Events on the track will begin at 11 a.m.