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Raiders look to defend NAIA combined title

The Southern Oregon University men’s and women’s cross country teams won’t have to go far to defend their NAIA combined title, but they’ll have to outperform their rankings in order to repeat the feat.

That hasn’t recently been a problem for the Raiders, whose men are No. 5 and women are No. 9 in the coaches’ polls entering Friday’s NAIA Championships. The men’s 8,000-meter race will start at 10:30 a.m. followed by the women’s 5K at 11:30 a.m. at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, where the meet will be hosted by the Cascade Conference for the second time in three years.

Like last year, both SOU teams are coming off second-place showings at the CCC Championships. In 2018, the Raider men were No. 5 and the women No. 7 entering the national races before both claimed fourth place in the team standings and produced two All-Americans each to capture the program’s second combined title. (The other was in 2010.)

This year, three other schools boast a pair of top-10 teams: College of Idaho (No. 2 men, No. 6 women), Indiana Wesleyan (No. 4 men, no. 10 women) and Taylor (Ind.) (No. 6 men, No. 7 women).

Both SOU teams earned at-large bids thanks to their rankings and will appear together in full at the meet for the sixth consecutive season. The 64th annual men’s race will include 37 teams of seven and 81 independent individuals, and the 40th women’s race is slated to comprise 37 teams and 89 individual qualifiers. The top-30 placers in each race are considered All-Americans.

Men’s Glance

SOU ENTRIES: Alex Harbert-Castro, Deklan Humble, Brandon Kelsey (24th, 2018), Gabe Loader (60th, 2018), Zeke Stelzer, Shea Van Butler, Kevin VanDyke (49th, 2018).

* SOU is one of just three teams that have qualified for the race each of the last 10 years; College of Idaho and The Master’s (Calif.) are the others.

* The Raiders return three of their top-four scorers from last season in Brandon Kelsey, Kevin VanDyke and Gabe Loader. Kelsey became an All-American for the first time in 24th place of 330 runners.

* Two weeks ago at the CCC Championships, Kelsey was the individual runner-up and Alex Harbert-Castro and Loader earned All-CCC status in 11th and 12th place. The Raiders had four of the top-14 and five of the top-20 overall, with a spread of 56 seconds between their first and last scorer. College of Idaho won the team title, as it did in 2018 before finishing behind SOU at the national meet.

* Kelsey and Harbert-Castro have been top-three finishers for the Raiders throughout the season. So had Deklan Humble until the CCC Championships, when he was SOU’s sixth finisher and 21st place overall.

* Oklahoma City is the defending men’s champion and has held onto the No. 1 ranking for the duration of 2019.

SOU CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY: The Raiders are making their 12th consecutive team appearance overall and have finished top-four in the team standings in 10 of their previous 11 trips. They won national championships in 2010 and 2016 - Vancouver was the site of the first title - and finished second every season from 2012-14. In their last two appearances, they’ve placed fourth.

Women’s Glance

SOU ENTRIES: Anna Amundsen, Lauren Fillipow (82nd, 2018), Sydnee Kizziar (140th, 2018), Kira Morrow, Shayla Potratz (109th, 2017; 154th, 2018), Ariana Toland (141st, 2016; 36th, 2018), Madison Willhoft.

* Like last year - when the Raiders posted the best finish in team history - the Raiders will have an experienced core at the race, bringing four runners with national meet experience and two (Shayla Potratz and Ariana Toland) appearing for the third time.

* An All-America effort would be the first for any Raider in the lineup. They’ve produced a pair of All-Americans each of the two seasons, a feat the team had previously before accomplished.

* Potratz, a junior, and sophomore Sydnee Kizziar became All-CCC runners two weeks ago, when Potratz (18:08.9) placed sixth and Kizziar seventh (18:09.1) at the conference meet with personal bests on both counts. That duo has paced the Raiders every race this season.

* Toland is SOU’s top returning placer after taking 36th place of 340 runners last year. Lauren Fillipow is the only other returning scorer for the team after placing 82nd. At the CCC meet, Toland was 16th and Fillipow 29th overall.

* Oregon Tech is the defending champion, though they were fourth place behind C of I, SOU and Eastern Oregon at the conference meet. Top-ranked SCAD Atlanta (Ga.) will enter the race as the favorite.

SOU CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY: Before last year’s fourth-place effort, SOU’s best finish as a team was seventh - achieved in both 2010, which marked the Raiders’ first-ever team appearance, and 2016. They’ll be attempting to notch back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in program history. Jessa Perkinson owns the best individual finish in team history, placing second overall in 2016.