Western seeks return to nationals

Coach Mike Johnson is excited about the cross country team's potential.

MONMOUTH -- Western Oregon cross country coach Mike Johnson could hardly be more pleased with his squad entering the 2011 season.

"I just love this team," said Johnson, who has been coaching for almost 40 years. "I love the people on it. I love seeing them every day. In terms of first-week attitude, this is as good of a group as I've worked with since 1993 or 1996. Maybe 1989. From an attitude standpoint, this is a great group."

The Wolves are coming off a highly successful 2010 campaign. Both the men and women finished third in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Meet and then advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regionals and National Championships.

Western is looking for more of the same this season.

"We definitely want to go back to nationals," said Kyle Larson, one of the top returnees for the men's team. "That's high on our priority list.

"I would also say we want to do very well in our conference meet. We'd maybe like to win that and get a top-10 finish at nationals. In order for our team to have success this season, we need to improve and have fun running together."

Other veteran runners for the men include Ryan Chapman, Dan Sprinkle and Connor Kasler.

Amanda Wright, Janelle Everetts, Megan Everetts and KayAnna Cecchi ran for Western in the 2010 national championships and are back for their senior seasons.

"Both the girls and the guys made it to nationals last season," said Wright. "We really want to come out and have a good season and do that again. With the people we have and the attitudes we have, I would say that's a perfectly reasonable expectation. We all mesh really well, which is important. If you don't get along with your teammates, it's hard to stay motivated and confident."

The Wolves open the season Friday, Sept. 2, in the Clackamas Community College Invitational at Oregon City. The GNAC Championships are set for Oct. 22 at Yakima, Wash.

Western opens the season with its men's team ranked fourth in the West Region and 22nd nationally; the WOU women are ranked fifth in the West.

"We'll certainly be one of the top 20 teams in the country again," Johnson said. "But we're in one of the top two or three regions in the country. Between us and the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions ... you could hold a national meet out of those groups.

"With both the men and women, we have 10 or 12 athletes who easily could compete to be in our top seven. I don't know who the leaders are at this point. Right now, everybody is contributing in practice."

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