Eagles Open Season Sept. 5

Eagle men picked to finish fourth, while the women are seventh in the BSC preseason polls

The Eastern Washington University men's and women's cross country teams open their seasons as the Eagles host the second annual Clash of the Inland Northwest Saturday (Sept. 5) in Spokane, Wash.

The event will take place at Mead High School with EWU competing against Gonzaga, Idaho and Washington State. The women's race starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time and the men's race begins at 10:30 a.m.

Last season at the Clash of the Inland Northwest, the Eagle men's team won the four-team dual scoring meet. Washington State took second, Gonzaga finished third and the University of Idaho was fourth. The women were third with Washington State taking first, Gonzaga second and Idaho was fourth.

"The Clash of the Inland Northwest is a great way to start off the season and give us a chance to look at some of the incoming athletes," said head cross country coach Chris Zeller.

In this year's Big Sky Conference preseason polls released Monday (Aug. 18), Eastern's men's team was ranked fourth and the women's team was seventh. Northern Arizona was picked to sweep both men's and women's titles.

Eastern returns several key performers from last year's teams. The men's roster includes five returning runners and two newcomers, while the women have six athletes returning and five newcomers. The men had a best-ever placing of third in the Big Sky in 2008 while the women were seventh.

The Eagle men return Alex Smyth (Sequim, Wash.), who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors by finishing sixth at the conference championships with a time of 23:47.6. In 2007, he was 13th with a time of 25:08. Joining Smyth are returners Cody Barton (Ridgefield, Wash.), Bowe Ebding (Walla Walla, Wash.), Kyle King (Coupeville, Wash.) and Graham Vaux (Yakima, Wash.).

Their new teammates include Jordan Curnutt (Spokane, Wash.) and Simon Sorensen (Issaquah, Wash.).

Among the athletes lost was Paul Limpf, who finished 73rd at the NCAA Championships out of 252 runners with a time of 30:39.3 on the 10,000-meter course. He was only the second male from Eastern to have ever competed at the championships.

"On the men's side we lose Paul Limpf and Tyler Justus who both had big contributions last year," said Zeller. "Limpf is someone you just can't replace with a freshman. He was fourth at Conference and 11th at West Regionals, so we certainly take a hit there. However, we have a couple of really talented freshmen poised to join the team this fall. Simon Sorensen and Jordan Curnutt will have an immediate impact on this year's team. Alex Smyth, who was sixth at Conference last season, is ready to move up another notch and lead this team. I look forward to seeing what he is able to accomplish this fall."

The women return Brittney Williams (Colville, Wash.), who finished 31st at the Big Sky Championships with a time of 18:31.8. Joining Williams are returners April Axtell (Kennewick, Wash.), Kelly Downey (Omak, Wash.), Stephanie Dye (Chattaroy, Wash.), Lauren Matthews (Sammamish, Wash.) and Amanda Weaver (Marysville, Wash.).

Other newcomers include Sarah Alvick (Vancouver, Wash.), Amy Durrance (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.), Jessi Johnson (Clarkston, Wash.), Karen Owens (Spokane, Wash.) and Ari Rios (Spokane, Wash.).

"On the women's side we lose Amber Nickelson, who was our veteran leader last year," said Zeller. "The rest of the women's team has really matured since last year and seem to have figured it out. Brittney Williams and Stephanie Dye will be providing the leadership this year and look to have big seasons. They will be joined by Karen Owens, who was the NWAACC champion in the steeplechase this spring. This group is putting the pieces together and keeps getting better to where I think they will have a fabulous year, one of the best ever, a year from now."

The 2009 Big Sky Conference Championships will be run on Saturday, Oct. 31 in Greeley, Colo.

More on the Big Sky Conference preseason polls . . .

On the men's side, Northern Arizona was picked first with 81 points and look to defend their title. The Lumberjacks are followed by Weber State (69), Montana State (60), EWU (51), Montana (47), Sacramento State (35), Idaho State (33), Portland State (15) and Northern Colorado (13).

On the women's side, defending champion Northern Arizona ranked first with 81 points, followed by Weber State (65), Sacramento State (64), Montana (58), Idaho State (45), Montana State (39), EWU (23), Portland State (17) and Northern Colorado (16).

"The preseason polls seem appropriate," said Zeller. "We certainly have our eyes on the teams ahead of us, but aren't going to overlook solid squads from Montana and Sacramento State either. They both have the talent to surprise some people. Northern Arizona has an incredible squad and very much deserves the No. 1 ranking as they will be looking to make the podium at NCAA Championships. Weber is tough. I really think Montana State is a team to look out for this year."


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