October 23, 2007

Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships Saturday

Oct. 23, 2007

The Eastern Washington University men's and women's cross country teams will look to better their performances from last year when they compete in the Big Sky Conference Championships in Missoula, Mont., Saturday (Oct. 27).

"Our team has a great cohesiveness this year, which will really help us finish better than in years past," said head cross country coach Chris Zeller.

The women will begin at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on a 5,000-meter course while the men will begin its 8,000-meter race at 10:45 a.m. Last year, the women placed sixth while the men were seventh.

Eastern competed at the Montana Open on Sept. 8, which also took place at the University of Montana, site of this week's meet. The women will run the same, identical course and the men competed on a shorter, 6,000-meter course. Both teams will compete again at the 3,199-foot elevation of Missoula.

"One plus for us this year is that our women's team has already run the course once," said Zeller. "We ran a 5k there for our first race of the year, so there shouldn't be any surprises as far as the course is concerned. Our men got to see the first half of their course."

The top finisher for the women last year was Mattie Bridgmon, who placed 12th with a time of 18:15.8. The other returning finisher was Amber Nickelson (19th, 18:28.0).

Eastern is also taking Samantha Modderman, Kiri Garruto, monica Prunty, Tracy Kuhn, Whitney Johnson and Nikki Buchholtz to Missoula.

"Our women go in ranked sixth," added Zeller. "Fifth is the best team finish since 2005. So that is certainly a goal, one that I think is certainly attainable.

"Mattie Bridgmon and Samantha Modderman are a great one and two punch for us. Our fifth is about where our fifth was a year ago. Kiri, our number three is also a bit ahead of where she was a year ago."

The men last year were led by Paul Limpf, who had a time of 24:45.8 for a seventh-place finish. The other returning finisher was Andrew Marks (54th, 27:21.6).

Besides Limpf and Marks, competing for the Eagles will be Alex Smyth, Graham Vaux, Bowe Ebding and Erik Walter.

"One goal is always to finish higher than our ranking, which is seventh going in," said Zeller. "However, I think there are three or four schools in the middle of the pack not separated by a lot. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. Most of the teams haven't really seen each other head to head.

"The men's field is extremely deep this year," added Zeller. "The top fifteen from last year are all back as well as a couple of guys who red-shirted last year, such as Saheed Kahn from ISU who was all-conference two years ago. Our team is much improved from a year ago. We go into conference minus Curtis Suver, eighth last year, who is red-shirting this year, but we have three freshmen in our top five who have already been contributing at a high level."

The last meet for the Eagles was Oct. 13 at the Fifth Annual EWU Cross Country Invitational. Limpf and Bridgmon led the Eagles to second and first place finishes, respectively.

Individually, Bridgmon had a time of 18:24.3 followed by her teammate Modderman in 18:29.4. Other finishers for the Eagles were Garruto (10th, 19:31.3), Nickelson (14th, 19:52.0), Prunty (15th, 19:59.8) and Johnson (29th, 21:54.0).

Limpf took second overall and was the top Eastern runner with a time of 25:01.0 on the 8,000 meter course. Followed by Smyth (3rd, 25:29.3), Justice (7th, 26:19.4), Vauz (8th, 26:19.7), Ebding (10th, 26:22.4), Marks (23rd, 27:11.1) and Walter (28th, 27:43.3).

Northern Arizona, on the strength of its win at the Pre-Nationals last week, enter this week's meet ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Division I men's cross country rankings. The Weber State men are ranked 29th, and the Northern Arizona women are 20th.

Weber State is the defending champion for both the men and women. However, Northern Arizona was the favorite to win both titles in the preseason poll of head coaches.

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