WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Twenty tireless runners are headed to western Oregon to represent Whitman College in Saturday's Northwest Conference Cross Country Championships.

The women's 6,000 meters starts at 11 a.m. at McIver State Park near Estacada, Ore. The men's 8,000 meters follows at noon.

      Matthew Kelly
   Kristen Ballinger

The Whitman women's contingent includes five seniors -- Yasmeen Colis, Sara McCune, Michela Corcorran, Heather O'Moore and Emily Rodriguez.

The lone junior, Kristen Ballinger, rounds out the group along with sophomores Jennifer Farley and Sara Levy and first-year Missionaries Emilie Gilbert and Katri Gilbert. A third first-year runner, Christine Kiely, is the alternate.

Seniors Matthew Kelly and Curtis Reid lead the Whitman men's team.

Juniors Sam Hennessey, Dan Luecke and John Callow add more experience to a relatively young roster that also includes sophomore Yonas Fikak and freshmen Cory Rand, Fredo Villasenor, Hugh Parker and Taylor Mesojednik. The alternate is sophomore Brendan Boyer.

After Saturday's conference championships, Whitman runners turn focus to the NCAA Div. III west regional event, slated for Saturday, Nov. 14, on the Pomona-Pitzer campus in Claremont, Calif. The top two teams at the regional races earn automatic berths at nationals. Individual berths at nationals are also determined at regionals. 

Whitman Women's Preview

Led by its strong senior class, the Whitman women's squad is one of the favorites for the women's team title. The Missionaries, ranked No. 23 nationally, are No. 2 in the west region, trailing only Whitworth University. The Whitman and Whitworth women tied for second in the team scoring at last year's NWC championships.

         Sara McCune (left), Yasmeen Colis

Yasmeen Colis has been the top Missionary women's runner in three races this fall. She placed third at the Lewis & Clark Invitational (held at McIver Park), leading Whitman to first place in the team scoring. She also finished fourth overall at Puget Sound Invitational.

In her three previous trips to the NWC championships, Colis placed as high 13th, which she did a year ago when Whitman hosted the championships at Veterans Golf Course.

Kristen Ballinger, a junior in her second season of running for Whitman, posted the best Missionary finish this fall at the Erik Anderson Invitational, placing sixth overall. She was second for Whitman at the three races in which Colis was the first Missionary finisher.

Ballinger, who ran her first collegiate season at Amherst, was Whitman's top runner at last year's NWC championships, placing sixth overall and qualifying as an individual for the NCAA national meet.

Sara McCune, Michella Corcorran and Heather O'Moore have run in Whitman's top five at most races this season. At the Lewis & Clark Invitational, for example, Corcorran was eighth, O'Moore 10th and McCune 12th. McCune also had the top Missionary finish at the season-opening Whitman Invitational, placing seventh overall.

All three will be running in their fourth NWC championship meet. At past meets, McCune has placed as high as 10th, Corcorran as high as 16th, and O'Moore as high as 30th.

Emily Rodriguez, who shares the senior captain duties with McCune, has run in two previous conference finals. She placed a career-best 38th last season.

Sara Levy and Jennifer Farley ran in last fall's championship event, finishing 32nd and 52nd, respectively.

As first-year runners, sisters Emilie and Katri Gilbert will take their first crack at the championships on Saturday. Emilie ran second for the Missionaries at the Whitman Invitational while Katri was seventh in that event. Emilie ran sixth for Whitman at three other races. 

Whitman Men's Preview

The Whitman men's team, which has placed sixth in the last three NWC championship races, is looking for a higher finish in Saturday's event. The Missionary men are ranked seventh in the latest west region poll and fourth among NWC schools.

     Matthew Kelly

At the recent Puget Sound Invitational, the Missionary men placed a strong third in a field of six conference schools. They outran four NWC teams at last month's Lewis & Clark Invitational.

       Curtis Reid

Cory Rand made the strongest showing of his freshman season at Puget Sound, placing seventh overall. He also had Whitman's top finish at the Erik Anderson Invitational, where he was 20th overall.

Senior captains Curtis Reid and Matthew Kelly finished 13th and 15th, respectively, at Puget Sound. Earlier in the season, Kelly was the top Missionary runner at two races.

Saturday will mark Kelly's fourth appearance at the NWC championships. His best finish came last year, when he was 24th. Reid, who has run twice previously in the championships, finished a career-high 43rd last season.

Juniors Sam Hennessey, Daniel Luecke and John Callow are also making their third trek to conference championships. All three registered their best showings last year; Hennessey was 27th, Luecke 44th and Callow 49th.

Yonas Fikak, the lone Whitman sophomore headed to Saturday's race, will be running in the championship event for the first time, as will the four Missionary freshmen.

Fredo Villasenor was first for the Missionaries at the early Whitman Invite, placing 10th overall. He also ran second and third among teammates at two other races.

Hugh Parker ran second to Kelly at the Lewis & Clark Invitational and was third among the Missionary runners at one other race.

Taylor Mesojednik made his best showing at the Erik Anderson Invitational, where he had Whitman's fourth-best time.

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; holden@whitman.ed