by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – The 2017 cross country season is nearly underway at Whitworth University and hopes are high for both teams going into Friday's season-opening meet in Missoula, Montana.
The season begins at Clash of the Inland Northwest, which will be hosted by the University of Montana. Among Division III squads, the Pirate women won the meet last season while the men finished third.
For the second straight year, the Whitworth women finished last season in the driver's seat of the Northwest Conference. They also took home 17th place nationally, the second-best finish in school history. On the men's side, Whitworth finished fourth at last season's Northwest Conference Championships.
The Whitworth women return three of their top runners from last season's Northwest Conference winning team, so it's no surprise that conference coaches chose the Pirates as favorites to take home another title this season.
Kayla Leland is back after stellar seasons in both cross country and track where she finished 12th in the nation in cross country and broke multiple school records during track season. Leland finished the year with four All-American performances in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track.
Joining Leland will be fellow All-NWC first teamer Bailey Scott, who finished fifth at the Northwest Conference Championships last season. Thais Pedro Trujillo was an All-NWC second team finisher last season after her 13th place effort at the NWC championships.
While the three All-NWC finishers may be the headliners, Whitworth can count on capable runners behind them as well. Sara Dawes returns as a member of Whitworth's top seven as does sophomore Emily Donnel. Both bring valuable experience after competing at the national championships last season.
Conference coaches predicted a third place finish for the Pirate men, who return both All-NWC runners from last season's fourth place finish. Whitworth is looking unseat Willamette and return to the top of the standings for the first time since 2011.
Bingham finished fifth at the NWC championships last season, earning first team all-conference honors. Harper finished 13th, earning a place on the second team.
A pair of talented, young runners join the upperclassmen as potential impact performers. Sophomore Gabriel Meek finished 20th at the conference championships last season, and will be a threat to take home all-conference honors this season. Fellow second-year runner Nathaniel Anderson should be in the hunt as well after his 29th place result last season.
Senior Brian Ault rounds out the top seven alongside sophomores Matt Creagan and Christian Carsh. With the trio returning, the Pirates will bring back all of the runners they send to the NWC Championships last season.