October 28, 2008

Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships Saturday

Oct. 28, 2008

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 Portland, Ore., Saturday (Nov. 1).

The women will begin at 10 a.m. Pacific time on a 5,000-meter course while the men will start its 8,000-meter race at 11 a.m. The top 10 individual finishers in both races will earn All-Big Sky Conference Honors. Last year, the women finished a best-ever fourth place while the men finished seventh.

However, Eastern's men are hoping for its best-ever finish, having placed fourth in 2005. Led by the one-two punch of senior Paul Limpf and sophomore Alex Smyth, head cross country coach Chris Zeller thinks this is the best Eastern men's team since the Eagles joined the Big Sky Conference in 1987.

"If we all run what we're capable of, this should be the best team finish since EWU joined NCAA Division I," said Zeller. "We're excited to test ourselves against our Conference competition."

The men are currently ranked ninth in the west in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Regional Rankings. Washington State and Washington are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively. In the mountain region, Big Sky member Northern Arizona University is currently first, with Montana and Montana State ranked 13th and 14th, respectively.

Eastern's top male finisher last year was Paul Limpf, who finished fifth with a time of 24:34.1. In 2006 he placed seventh with a time of 24:45.9. The other returning finishers in 2007 were Alex Smyth (13th, 25:08.2), Graham Vaux (40th, 26:26.8), Bowe Ebding (43rd, 26:32.9), and Tyler Justice (48th, 26:45.1). Eastern will also take Kyle King, Cody Barton and Cody Bradwell to Portland.

"Our men's team is a little banged up right now, but everyone should be a go this weekend," added Zeller, whose team last competed Oct. 18 at the EWU Cross Country Invitational. " We held out Bowe and Tyler at our home meet to be cautious and give them a little more time to mend as we get ready for the post-season."

The only finisher returning for the women is senior Amber Nickelson, who placed 26th with a time of 19:04.1. The Eagles will also take April Axtell, Kelly Downey, Stephanie Dye, Tera Klein, Lauren Matthews, Amanda Weaver and Brittney Williams.

"Our women's team is really young, but there are definitely some teams we expect to be competitive with," said Zeller. " It will also be a great experience for our freshmen for down the road. This is Amber's last championship in cross country, so she'll be looking to go out on top with all-conference honors.

"The race is at Blue Lake Park, which is flat and mostly all grass," added Zeller. "The forecast is for rain on Friday and Saturday. If it's dry it will be a real fast course. A wet course will slow it down considerably and make it more of a strength course."

At the EWU Invitational, Limpf and Smyth had a 1-2 finish in the men's race as Eastern picked up dual-meet victories over Montana, Gonzaga and Calgary. Limpf had a winning time of 24:53.6 followed by Smyth, who finished second with a time of 25:00.4. Other finishers for the Eagles were King (6th, 25:51.9), Vaux (7th, 25:54.7), Barton (20th, 26:41.6) and Bradwell (36th, 27:50.9).

In the women's race, Nickelson was sixth with a time of 18:59.6 in the 5,000-meter course. Followed by Dye (13th, 19:58.7), Williams (15th, 20:07.3), Matthews (21st, 20:56.2), Downey (30th, 21:40.3), Weaver (36th, 22:09.5) and Axtell (40th, 23:19.0).

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