By Peter Melling /// Sports Editor
The men’s and women’s cross-country teams are back in action. After a strong performance in the University of Portland Dual Meet on Aug. 29, both teams are gearing up for Sumdodger, their first invitational this Saturday. Expectations are high for both squads, and they are more than qualified to meet and exceed them.
One element that has driven up expectations is the youth movement on both teams. There are 14 first-years on both teams (eight men, six women), and all of them have made significant contributions within the squads.
“I think the freshman class on both sides is pretty talented and are going to have an impact on our performance throughout the season, ” said Director of Men’s and Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field Keith Woodard.
Among these are Blake Slattengren (’18) and Jeff Mullins (’18), who were the first two finishers (finishing with the times 20:48.3 and 20:58.3 respectively) in the men’s race at the dual meet. Other standout first-years include Peter Innes (in his first year of eligibility, despite academically being a senior) and Kelin Donner, the highest first-year finisher at the dual meet.
Their presence complements the continued maturation of the upperclassmen on both teams (featuring many veterans on both teams, like Nicholas Ellis (’16) and Evan Gamza (’16) on the men’s team, as well as Ali Brauer (’15) and Aviva Browning (’16) on the women’s team), raising both teams higher than their stock last year.
The men’s team will be looking to continue their upward trend after finishing fourth in the championship last year, while the women’s team is looking to rebound after a sixth place finish last year. With first-years and the uppeclassmen working in tandem, each squad’s prospects are high.
The team will have to keep their pace up, as the Northwest Conference remains tough. Defending conference champion Willamette and opponents Puget Sound and Whitworth remain strong.
With this strong field of opponents, it will prove tough for both teams to edge their way through the competition, but it is likely that there will be significant improvement from last year’s results, and possibly even a higher finish in the conference championship.
The cross country program is looking forward to a variety of events this season. Aside from the championship meet against the rest of the Northwest Conference, there are several important invitationals, including meets at the University of Washington and Stanford University. Lewis & Clark will host its own invitational on October 19.
The LC invitation will feature the debut of a new course at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada. This core of young and old might just bring both teams to a level greater than anticipated.