SEATTLE - The dash for nationals takes place this Friday for the Washington cross country teams, as the west coast converges on Sacramento for the NCAA West Regionals. Both the 12th-ranked Husky women and 29th-ranked Husky men are right in the thick of the NCAA qualifying conversation, and both will look to take care of business on Friday to extend their seasons.
Sacramento State is the host for this year’s Regional race, holding the event at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex. The men, who step up to 10,000-meters for the first time this weekend, go first at 10:30 a.m., then the women’s 6,000-meters starts at 11:45 a.m.
The clearest path to the NCAA Championships, held on Saturday November 23, is to finish first or second at Regionals. The top-two spots earn automatic qualification, and with nine regions, that makes for 18 qualifiers for the men and for the women. From there, things get tricky, as a point system based on regular season head-to-head wins over other NCAA qualifiers comes into play for the final 13 at-large spots. Trying to unravel the possible scenarios makes “Bracketology” look like child’s play.
The Husky women’s team is ranked second in the West Region and won four titles in a row from 2008-11 before finishing fourth last season. The Arizona women are the favorites as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, with Oregon sitting third. The are in a strong position to make a seventh-straight NCAA field based on another very solid regular season.
If the Husky men’s team does not get an automatic bid on Friday, much will depend on how the final standings shake out in the West and possibly around the nation. Washington, ranked fifth in the West coming in, has strong postseason credentials thanks in large part to a 15th-place finish at the Wisconsin Invite, but the Dawgs do not want a repeat of last season where they were the last team not to make the NCAA field. Oregon is the No. 1 team in the region, followed by Stanford, Portland, Arizona State, and Washington.
Team sizes are cut down to seven at Regionals. Eight women are traveling, including seniors Katie Flood, Justine Johnson, and Liberty Miller, junior Megan Goethals, sophomore Baylee Mires, and freshmen Kaylee Flanagan, Katie Knight, and Amy-Eloise Neale. Flood and Johnson are three-time All-West Region performers, awarded to top-25 finishers at the Regional, Goethals is a two-time recipient, and Miller was also 25th last year to earn her first such honor.
The men will have several runners stepping up to the 10k for the first time on Friday. Seven Huskies will line up out of a traveling party of nine that includes juniors Aaron Beattie and Aaron Nelson, sophomores Tyler King, Meron Simon, Jacob Smith and Izaic Yorks, redshirt freshmen Blake Nelson, and freshmen Andrew Gardner and Sumner Goodwin. Beattie, Aaron Nelson, and King all ran at Regionals last year, as did Smith as a member of Portland. But this would potentially be the first 10k for the remaining five Dawgs.
Washington is coming off a solid performance at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago in Louisville, Colorado. The women placed third behind Arizona and Colorado, led by Katie Flood’s 11th-place finish. Aaron Nelson had the best individual finish by a Husky male since 2006 with an eighth-place run, leading the Huskies to fifth overall behind Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona State. Jacob Smith had his best race for the men, finishing 25th, and Justine Johnson and Katie Knight were 19th and 20th, respectively, to help lead the women.