SEASON OUTLOOK: Young Cross Country Teams Begin Climb Toward Their Futures

Big Sky Conference predicts Eagle men and women to finish 8th

When the Eastern Washington University men's and women's cross country teams kick off the season Sept. 1 at the Clash of the Inland Northwest, they will look into eventually starting a new chapter in the school's history.

Head coach Chris Zeller believes this year’s men's squad has some of the best depth and raw talent the program has seen in years. However, with this season's Big Sky Cross Country Championships being held at Northern Arizona, the 7,000-foot elevation in Flagstaff puts the team at a significant disadvantage. As a result, Zeller will look to redshirt a few key athletes in order to build towards the 2013 season.

However, the 2012 season comes first and the Clash of the Inland Northwest will be held at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash. The women’s race begins at 10 a.m., with the men’s race to follow at 10:30.

In a vote of the Big Sky Cross Country coaches, both the men’s and women’s team were voted to finish eighth. The men received 55 points in voting while the women received 39. The Northern Arizona men and the Weber State women have been chosen as the favorites for the Big Sky titles with both squads receiving all 11 first-place votes.

The 2012 Big Sky Cross Country Championships will be hosted by Northern Arizona University and held at Buffalo Park Oct. 27 in Flagstaff. Eastern’s men’s and women’s teams both finished seventh at the BSC Championships last year at Idaho State.


Men’s Season Outlook

Redshirts aside, the Eagles will have a very new look after losing five recent letter winners to graduation. Simon Sorensen, the top finisher for Eastern at last year's Big Sky Cross Country Championship (19th), will be redshirting along with Chris Schroll and newcomer Vincent Hamilton.

Schroll, a transfer from UNC-Pembroke, was a qualifier last season in the 5,000 meters at the Big Sky Indoor Track and Field Championships with his time of 15:16.81.

“Vince Hamilton probably has the best credentials on paper of any newcomer at Eastern,” Zeller said. Hamilton is a transfer from Boise State who ran for high school powerhouse North Central in Spokane, Wash. He was named Freshman of the Year in the Mountain West Conference and his high school track time of 8:58.26 in the 3200 was the second fastest in Washington in 2011.

Eastern also lost two-time Big Sky Track Champion Kyle King (2011 Indoor 5K, 2012 Outdoor 10K), who placed fourth at the 2010 Big Sky XC Championships. Other key losses include Bowe Ebding, Graham Vaux, Cody Barton and Drake da Ponte.

This year’s roster will feature three returners including team captain Jordan Curnutt (Spokane, Wash.), Nathan Fall (Chewelah, Wash.) and Quin Olivas (Kennewick, Wash.).

At last year’s conference championship in Pocatello, Idaho, Curnutt was fourth on the team, placing 50th overall. Fall and Olivas followed in the No.5 and No.6 spots for Eastern, with Fall finishing 53rd and Olivas 54th.

Rounding out the roster for the men are newcomers Issac Seward (Veradale, Wash.) and David Thor (Wichita, Kan.).

Thor is a seven-time state champion from Bishop Carroll High School in Kansas. He won 5A State titles twice in cross country and five times in track (800, 1600, 3200, 4x400 relay).

“I think we’re going to be really hungry to be in the top three in the conference a year from now, and I really think we have the pieces to do that. But it’s going to be a matter of them putting in the work this fall,” Zeller said.


Women’s Season Outlook

On the women’s side, the team is still fairly young with the majority of the squad consisting of sophomores or juniors. The Eagles lost three of their top runners including Tonya Turner, Micaela Rasmussen and Stephanie Dye. Turner was the top runner for Eastern last year, placing 22nd at the conference championship while Rasmussen was the No.5 runner, placing 48th. Dye, a former team captain and four-year letterwinner, was third for the Eagles and placed 41st at the championships.

Top returners for the Eagles include Katie Mahoney (Richland, Wash.) and team captain Berenice Penaloza (Yakima, Wash.). Zeller believes they will be the top two runners for the women.

Mahoney was 36th at the Big Sky Championships last year and the second to cross the finish line for Eastern. Penaloza redshirted the 2011 Cross Country season, but both she and Mahoney made their marks in Eastern’s record books during the 2012 Indoor Track season. Mahoney ran times of 5:04.41 in the mile (fourth all-time) and 10:26.63 in the 3,000 (seventh all-time). Penaloza ran 18:08.99 in the 5,000 (fourth all-time) and 10:30.74 in the 3,000 (tenth all-time). Both athletes redshirted the 2012 outdoor season.

“Katie and Berenice put in really solid summers, and I’m really excited to see what they’re able to do,” Zeller said, “In terms of how it will fill in behind them, we’ll just have to wait and see who put in the summers necessary to take those other spots.”

Returning letterwinners for the team include Monica Jaenicke (Auburn, Wash.), Kimberly Macias (Hermiston, Ore.), Danie Moon (Gig Harbor, Wash.), and the lone senior on the roster, Jessi Johnson (Clarkston, Wash.).

Other members of the team include Carina Leon (Pasco, Wash.), Jamie Gladfelter (Port Angeles, Wash.), Acacia Smith (Spokane, Wash.), Lauren Brewington (Naches, Wash.), Katherine Bravo (Yakima, Wash.), Amber Core (Kaiserslautern, Germ.), Brittney Swanson (Yakima, Wash.) and newcomer Lynnsie Stoneback (Puyallup, Wash.).


2012 Big Sky Cross Country Preseason Coaches' Poll

Men's Poll

School Points (First-Place Votes)
1. Northern Arizona 121 (11)
2. Weber State 106
3. Montana State 96
4. Sacramento State 76
5. Southern Utah 75
6. Montana 68
7. Idaho State 56
8. Eastern Washington             55
9. North Dakota 29
10. Northern Colorado 22
11. Portland State 22

Women's Poll

School Points (First-Place Votes)
1. Weber State 121 (11)
2. Northern Arizona 102
3. Montana 95
4. Idaho State 86
5. Montana State 71
6. Southern Utah 67
7. Sacramento State 65
8. Eastern Washington 39
9. Northern Colorado 29
10. North Dakota 29
11. Portland State 22
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