Raiders aim for cross country gold in Vancouver

The time between the completion of the NAIA Cross Country Championships and the announcement of team scores is wrought with speculation and number-crunching, though most coaches have already been calculating for months.

If all goes according to plan today at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site, the second-ranked Southern Oregon University men and No. 10 Raider women will be participating in those rituals once again. Both teams are coming off an historic 2016 meet, at which the men won their second national title and the women matched their best-ever team finish at seventh place while producing two All-Americans for the first time.

SOU will be represented by both teams in full at for the fourth year in a row and fifth time in school history. The meet is back in Vancouver, Washington — the site of SOU's first men's title in 2010 — for the first time since it set up camp there from 2009-12. It starts with the 62nd annual men's 8,000-meter race at 10:30 a.m., followed by the 38th annual women's 5K at 11:30 a.m.

The top-30 finishers in each race will be considered All-Americans. A total of 12 All-Americans from the men's side and 11 from the women's are back from last year.


SOU Men's Entries: Ryan Alexander, Connor Cushman, Caleb Diaz, Noah Oberriter, Aidan Paulk, Kevin Poteracke, Ray Schireman, Brandon Kelsey (alternate).

Men's Field at a Glance: Top-ranked British Columbia will come into the meet as the favorite for the second year in a row. The Thunderbirds received 16 first-place votes in the latest NAIA coaches' poll (SOU got the other four) with three 2016 All-Americans, including fourth-place Aaron Hooton and fifth-place John Gay, back for another shot. SOU upset the Thunderbirds by putting all five of its scorers — Connor Cushman (16th), Dylan Alexander (33rd), Noah Oberriter (37th), Ray Schireman (44th) and Kevin Poteracke (47th) — in front of their fourth and fifth.

With each of those scorers back except Alexander — and his brother, Ryan Alexander, taking his place — no one will be surprised if the Raiders upend UBC again. But they'll also have to fend off No. 4 St. Francis (Ill.), which was the runner-up to SOU last year by a margin of 148-122, and third-ranked Lewis-Clark State (Idaho).

"Our strength is our depth as usual, but I think similar to last year there are three to four teams with a really good shot," SOU head coach Grier Gatlin said. "UBC's 4-5-6 are much improved, so we'll need to have a lot of guys up front again."

SOU was one of 25 teams to earn an automatic bid. With 11 at-large teams, one host bid and 87 at-large individuals, a total of 339 runners will start the race.

SOU Men's Championship History: The Raiders are in the meet as a team for the 10th year in a row. Except for the 2015 race — when they were ranked No. 1 but sat a handful of runners due to illness — their worst finish during the stretch was fourth in 2008. They were third in 2009, first in 2010, third in 2011 and second from 2012-14.


SOU Women's Entries: Allex Bachtell, Jamie Chelberg, Kim Nava, Jessa Perkinson, Shayla Potratz, Jenna Stoms, Bree Weber, Kayle Blackmore (alternate).

Women's Field at a Glance: British Columbia is vying to repeat as champion and win its fifth title in six seasons, but Oklahoma City comes in as the top-ranked team. The Cascade Conference should have heavy representation near the top of the standings with No. 6 Oregon Tech, No. 7 College of Idaho, No. 10 SOU and No. 18 Oregon Tech in the mix. Northwest (Wash.) will also compete, having accepted the CCC's host bid to the field.

Five of the seven Raiders slated to run will be making their first appearances at the national meet. That does not include senior Jessa Perkinson, who is fresh off winning SOU's first individual CCC title and attempting to become the first 10-time overall All-American in school history. She is inarguably one of the runners to watch for the top individual honor — she's already won NAIA 5K and 10K outdoor track titles in her career — after placing third last season for the best finish in team history. She'll contend with defending champion Aminat Olowora of Oklahoma City, who set an NAIA championship record last year with a time of 16:24.28.

Perkinson and fellow All-American Kayle Blackmore (who has recently been inactive due to injury but is listed as the team's alternate) pushed the Raiders to seventh in the 2016 team standings after they came in with a No. 12 ranking. To push for a top finish again they'll need big performances from Jenna Storms — a junior whose steady improvement culminated with an eighth-place showing at the CCC Championships — and Bree Weber, who will be making her third appearance at the meet.

"We're running really well and having good practices," Gatlin said. "Storms continues to get better week by week, and that's been really good for the freshmen because she started a little behind them and is now sort of pulling them along."

SOU received the third of eight at-large team bids. There were 27 automatic bids, one host bid and 92 individual at-large berths, bringing the total field to 344 runners.

SOU Women's Championship History: The Raiders didn't make their first appearance until 2010, when they debuted at seventh place. They returned in 2014 to take 18th and moved up to 14th in 2015 as Perkinson captured her first-ever All-America accolade in 13th place. Perkinson is currently the only two-time XC All-American in team history.

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