Eastern Kicks Off Cross Country Season by Hosting 2011 Clash of the Inland Northwest

EWU one of five region schools to compete in season-opening meet

The Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s cross country teams begin their seasons this Saturday (Sept. 3) with the 2011 Clash of the Inland Northwest at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash. Eastern is co-hosting the event with Gonzaga.

In addition to EWU and GU, Whitworth, Washington State and Idaho will be competing on Saturday. The women’s race is set to begin at 10 a.m., with the men’s race to follow at 10:30.

The meet will be the first collegiate race for many of Eastern’s athletes, as both the men’s and women’s rosters feature an abundance of newcomers. Head coach Chris Zeller is looking forward to seeing these new athletes in action.

“I’m excited to see the freshman compete,” he said. “More than anything they need to just get out there for some college racing experience. Once they have that, there is less anxiety, they have a better feel for a collegiate race and they get some of the kinks worked out.”

Zeller is hoping for the men’s team to adopt a pack mentality this weekend, especially since their top runner from last season, Kyle King, is redshirting the 2011 campaign.

One men’s runner, junior Drake DaPonte, wasn’t able to compete until the Big Sky Conference Championships last season. This year, he is prepared for a full season of running.

“Drake is excited and he’s pretty fit,” said Zeller. “For him, it’s going to be a matter of running smart and not being too aggressive too early. The pack mentality can help someone like Drake.”

With the meet taking place so early in the season, Zeller isn’t looking for outstanding results.  He is just ready to get his team up and running. Eastern will have an advantage, as this first meet is just minutes from home.

“It’s nice not to have to travel,” said Zeller. “It allows us to keep the low key mentality and not get too hyped. I think it’s huge to get a race out of the way, especially with all these new athletes. I told my team that high school never happened, so you can’t go off what they accomplished then. Some students blossom in college, so it’s good to get the experience under their belts.”

2011 SEASON OUTLOOK: Newcomers Will Have Big Roles for Eagles

It will be a season full a surprises for Eastern Washington University’s men’s and women’s cross country teams when they kick off the 2011 season on Sept. 3 at the Clash of the Inland Northwest. Eastern will be co-hosting the meet with Gonzaga University at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash.

Both teams will not be returning their top runners from last season with Amy Kolin (sixth in the Big Sky Conference Championships) graduating and Kyle King (fourth in the BSCC) redshirting. Cody Barton will also be redshirting.

In a vote done by the Big Sky Cross Country coaches, the men’s team was voted to finish fifth in conference, as the women were voted to finish in seventh place. The Northern Arizona men and the Weber State women have been chosen to win the Cross Country titles.

However, despite their position in the polls, both teams will be looking at newcomers, and returning redshirt athletes, to help push the Eagles to the top.

The women’s team is highlighted by four newcomers including three freshmen and one transfer from Whitworth. Katie Mahoney (Richland, Wash.), Berenice Penaloza (Yakima, Wash.) and Chelsea Stokes (Spokane, Wash.) will make their collegiate debuts. Tonya Turner (Spokane, Wash.), who graduated from Whitworth last spring holding school records in 3,000 meter steeplechase and 1,500 meter run, will be enjoying her last season of NCAA eligibility with the Eagles.

“I think they’re going to do great. I think Katie and Berenice added with Chelsea Stokes can potentially be the strongest trio of freshmen in the conference,” said head coach Chris Zeller. “They’re going to come in and contribute right away, but say three years down the road is when they’re really going to be something special.”

Without a front runner like Kolin, Zeller hopes for the women to run with more of a pack mentality rather than having one runner finish high.

“Cross Country is interesting,” he said. “You can have a team with a front runner and people who file in behind them. Or you can have a team that doesn’t have the front runner, but you’re a pack with depth, which is more what our woman’s team is this year. I’d like for our girls to gain a lot of experience and for them to grow as athletes.”

Other members of the team include second-year senior captain Stephanie Dye (Chattaroy, Wash.), Angelica Rodriguez (Hermiston, Ore.), Monica Jaenike (Auburn, Wash.), Dani Raschko (Bickleton, Wash.), Kimberly Macias (Hermiston, Ore.), Micaela Rasmussen (Lakes, Wash.), Mallory McDonald (Shoreline, Wash.), Christie Granados (Convia, Calif.), Carina Leon (Pasco, Wash.), Jamie Gladfelter (Port Angeles, Wash.), Megan Auch (Corvallis, Mont.), Meghan Bennemen (Marysville, Wash.), Danielle Grams (Cashmere, Wash.), Lindsey Will (Spokane, Wash.), Emma Cain (Spokane, Wash.), Dani Moon (Gig Harbor, Wash.), Acacia Smith (Spokane, Wash.) and Lauren Brewington (Naches, Wash.).

The men’s team face running without not just King and Barton, but also without Connor Williams, who transferred to the University of Montana. However, Graham Vaux (Yakima, Wash.), Jordan Curnutt (Spokane, Wash.), Alex Avila (Salem, Ore.) and Quin Olivas (Kennewick, Wash.) are all returning from their redshirt seasons.

“On an individual level I’m disappointed to see Connor go, but I’m really interested to see what Quin and Alex can do. Those two didn’t really get to see what they were able to do last year when they redshirted,” said Zeller. “I’m excited to see where they are. I know Quin has had a pretty solid summer of training and Graham has been around the program for awhile so I know what he is capable of doing.”

Bowe Ebding (Walla Walla, Wash.), Drake da Ponte (Snoqualmie, Wash.) and Simon Sorensen (Issaquah, Wash.) round out the men’s roster.

Ebding was Eastern’s second finisher at the Big Sky Conference Championships in 16th place with a time of 23:07.87. Sorensen and da Ponte also participated in the championships with times of 24:01.98 (40th place) and 24:46.47 (50th place), respectively.

“The guys are a year older and stronger. Without (King and Barton) our men’s team will be pretty solid,” said Zeller.  “We’re limited in roster sports so we’re not as deep as we want to be and once we do workouts together, it will be interesting to see where everyone is. But Bowe and Graham will most likely be our front runners.”

The 2011 Big Sky Cross Country Championships will be held in Pocatello, Idaho on Oct. 29. Last year the men’s team finished fifth overall with King leading the pack in fourth place with a time of 22:10.14. Kolin helped lead the women to a seventh place finish with a time of 16:06.58, good for sixth overall.

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