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2012 NAIA Cross Country National Championships Preview

November 15, 2012
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By Jason Dormeyer, Sports Information Director Concordia (Ore.), with edits by Travis Rae NAIA Sports Information and Communications Intern

VANCOUVER, Wash. - The 33rd Annual NAIA Women's and 57th Annual NAIA Men's Cross Country National Championship will take place Saturday at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Wash. This is the fourth-straight fall that hundreds of long-distance runners from across the country make their way across the country for the 2012 National Championships, which is hosted by Concordia (Ore.) and the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

The 5K women's race will begin at 10:30 a.m. PST while the 8K men's race will get underway at 11:45 a.m. PST. Following the competitions, an awards ceremony honoring the champions and newly minted All-Americans will take place across the street at Hudson's Bay High School (Wash.).

The awards ceremony has been added to the schedule for live streaming for the first time. After the team and individual champions are crowned at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the awards ceremony will be streamed live at approximately 2:30 p.m. PST on Nov. 17.

A total of 655 student-athletes, 327 men and 328 women, from 133 different schools will line up on Saturday morning to vie for individual and team titles. The 32-team women's field features 22 conference/independent champions, seven at-large selections, two conference/independent runner-ups and one host bid. The men's 32-team field features, 21 conference/independent champions, nine at-large selections, one conference/independent runner-up and one host berth.

With a pair of returning All-Americans from 2011 in Kelly Thompson (7th) and Chelsey Cortez (22nd), California State San Marcos will be looking for a clean sweep in Vancouver, as the Cougars will be toeing the line in hopes of their fourth straight NAIA National Championship.

Led by Steve Scott, a three-time defending NAIA Coach of the Year, the Cougars have held the No. 1 ranking in six of the nine NAIA Coaches' Polls in this season.

Standing in the way of the four-peat will be the top-rated harriers from British Columbia, who will be seeking their first national team title. Making their way from Vancouver, B.C. to Vancouver, Wash., the Thunderbirds were the lone team to wrestle away the top ranking from the Cougars in 2012. Paced by sophomore standout Maria Bernard, a fourth-place finisher a year ago, British Columbia edged Cal State San Marcos in the final poll of the year which was released on Nov. 4.

With the 2011 individual champion Obsie Birru from Grand View (Iowa) graduated, Bernard and Thompson will join three other returning top-10 finishers seeking the individual crown. Eastern Oregon's Karlee Coffey (3rd) returns with the highest individual finish from a year ago, while Lindsay Wilson's (Ky.) Sharon Romo (8th) and College of Idaho's Sora Klopfenstrin (10th) trailed Coffey by less than 16 seconds.

Turning to the men's side, Southern Oregon will be driving up Interstate-5 with the quest to return to the top of the podium stand after a one-year hiatus. After claiming the 2010 national championship, the Raiders finished third in the team chase last season, but have returned by snaring the No. 1 rating in all nine votes by the NAIA coaches in 2012.

Despite not returning a single All-American, Southern Oregon packs a deep squad that dominated a loaded field at the Cascade Collegiate Conference Championships two weeks ago with all five scorers crossing the line within a 25-second spread.

The ninth-rated team to start the season, St. Francis (Ill.) has climbed the polls throughout the season all the way to the runner-up spot in the finale on Nov. 4. Another team lacking a returning All-American, the Fighting Saints will make up for the fact with five of the top eight individual finishers from the recently held Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships.

Also in the mix will be familiar names Cal State San Marcos and British Columbia, who sandwiched Oklahoma Baptist at No. 3 and No.5 in the final coaches' poll.

With six of the top 10 racers from 2011 returning to this year's field, the individual men's race looks to be more dramatic than the 44-second victory that was posted a year ago by Wayland Baptist's (Texas) Kennedy Kithuka.

Taking third place at nationals last year for The Master's (Calif.), John Gilbertson has picked up a pair of NAIA National Runner of the Week honors this year. Following Gilberston last year were five-straight underclassmen, beginning with Wayland Baptist's Edward Taragon, The Master's teammate Anthony Pizzo and Embry-Riddle's (Fla.) Evans Kirwa.

College of Idaho's Greg Montgomery and Park's (Mo.) Daniel Tubei will return after placing seventh and eighth place, respectively, a year ago. Kirwa was tabbed as the National Runner of the Week on three of the seven occasions this season while Montgomery and Southwestern's (Kan.) Frank Adelman, a 30th-place finisher in 2011, picked up the final two awards.

This is the last year that the NAIA Cross Country National Championships will be held at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Wash., as it moves to Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. for 2013-14 hosted by the Lawrence Sports Corporation and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.