SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University men's and women's cross country teams are on the upswing, and the Bulldogs hope it's more evident than ever Saturday at the West Coast Conference Championship at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore.

            Both the Bulldog men and women are looking for breakthrough performances when the action starts with the women's 6K at 9 a.m. followed by the men's 8K at 9:45 a.m.

            Last season the Bulldog women finished fifth for the second straight season with Emily Thomas finishing ninth to earn All-WCC accolades. It was the highest team finish for the Zags since taking third in 2004.

            The Bulldog men will include seniors Chris Boyle and Tate Kelly among their nine participants in search of Gonzaga's highest finish since a fourth-place finish in 2006. The men were sixth last season after back-to-back fifth-place finishes.

            The addition of BYU to the conference last season made the conference that much better - and deeper - especially on the men's side. Heading into Saturday the Cougars are ranked second in the Mountain Region and fifth in the national men's poll, while the University of Portland is ranked fourth in the West Region and 17th nationally. Gonzaga is 12th in the West while USF comes in ranked 14th.

            On the women's side BYU is ranked fourth in the Mountain Region while USF is seventh, Portland 8th and Gonzaga 13th in the West rankings.

            Gonzaga's men and women have been in the regional rankings most of the season.

            Fourth-year head coach Pat Tyson says the battle among the men is for third, although he's not totally conceding the top two spots to BYU and Portland.

            "They are the favorites, so what's up for grabs is third place," Tyson said. "This is a team that is the best group in Gonzaga history. That's not just on paper; it's a fact. The way they are running, their times and the regional ranking backs up that claim. Our goal is we feel we win if we get third place. That won't be easy. San Francisco is preseason number three and we were number four. USF has a good line-up, so does LMU; you can't take them too lightly."

            In addition to seniors Kelly and Boyle, the men's lineup will have senior Patrick Richie; juniors Brent Felnagle, Willie Milam and Robert Walgren, and sophomores Alex Foote, Colin O'Neil and Nick Roche.

            Senior Lindsey Drake and the veteran Thomas head a talented women's contingent that also features juniors Lauren Bergam, Krista Beyer, Catherine Theobald and Megan Blanchet; sophomores Maggie Jones and Lara Tuthill, and freshman Amelia Evans.

            "Definitely," assistant coach Patty Ley said when asked if this could be a breakthrough year for the Zag women. "I think I've seen it in terms of attitude, expectations, competing at a high-end level."

            But Ley, in her second season, also dug into the history books to show what can be accomplished at Gonzaga.

            "You go back to 1995 and we had a WCC championship team. There have been some results at that level," Ley said. "This is a breakout year for our conference on the women's side, let alone in Gonzaga itself as a women's team. So to be doing those things at the same time and having a chance to compete for a top spot in the conference is really exciting. It's going to be about managing that excitement."

            Tyson said Kelly and Boyle have proven themselves.

            "They are certainly veterans. Boyle was All-WCC the last time he ran this meet," Tyson said of Boyle's fourth-place finish in 2010 prior to redshirting last season. "Tate has been our number one gun all year, consistent."

            And Tyson said while the battle would seem to be for third place, anything can happen.

            "If these guys (Kelly and Boyle) get out and get some good low numbers and bring three of the next seven with a good low number - I don't know what that number is, but I like teens - it will be exciting," Tyson said of a possible upset. "That puts you a little closer to Portland. Can we beat some of those BYU guys and beat some of those Pilots on top of reaching our goal of third place? You never know what's going to happen at conference. I'm not saying we can't get into a higher spot, but the guys will have to have the race of their life and Portland and BYU would have to give a little less of a performance."

            Ley said it's a little harder to handicap the women's race.

            "It's hard to get a good handle on USF and BYU. USF is an excellent team and always runs well at conference. Portland and BYU will be right there. It might be a little more wide open," she said of the team chase. "I think there are more openings to go through. That top three is ultimately the goal to break into that group. I'd say there are five teams with USF favored. BYU and Portland, Gonzaga is there and LMU was looking good early in the season. LMU could sneak in and surprise a lot of people and get one of those top three spots."

            Tyson pretty well summed up what lies ahead.

            "I feel good about this weekend. I try not to think about it too much because I get the adrenaline going, but I try to tell the kids we don't need to get the adrenaline going until Saturday morning," Tyson said. "Let's go out this Saturday and get cozy with pain. It's going to hurt and it's going to hurt for everybody, so let's get cozy with it and get on that plane and come back in a really good mood."

 

 Chris Boyle

Senior Seattle, Wash. Blanchet


After redshirting in 2011, Boyle returned for his senior season and will be making his fourth appearance in the WCC Championship. He finished fourth in 2010 to earn All-WCC honors in setting a Gonzaga WCC Championship record of 25:08. He was also the top Bulldog finisher as a sophomore in 2009 in 25:34 and as a freshman finished 40th in 27:59. His best 8K time this fall was 24:01.65 in finished 24th at the WCC Preview on the same Fernhill Park layout in Portland, Ore., where the WCC Championship will be held.



Brent Felnagle
Senior Tacoma, Wash. Bellarmine Prep


Another veteran of the WCC Championship, Felnagle will be competing in his third straight event. He finished 33rd a year ago in 25:59 and was 34th as a freshman in 2010 in 26:34. His top 8K time this fall was 23:50.86 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of Saturday’s WCC Championship. He has recovered from respiratory problems which sidelined him in the final tune-up for the WCC Championship two weeks ago in Lewiston, Idaho.



Alex Foote
Sophomore Aloha, Ore. Aloha


A couple of weeks ago Foote was on the alternate list. But when freshman Conor McCandless was ruled out of the WCC Championship for health reasons Foote was the choice of head coach Pat Tyson to step in and fill the void. His best time this fall was 24:34.72 in his season debut at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of this year’s WCC Championship and a course he ran several times during his competitive days at Aloha High. He’ll be competing in his second WCC Championship, finishing 46th a year ago in 26:38.



Tate Kelly
Senior Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga Prep


After taking over the leadership role during Chris Boyle’s redshirt season in 2011, Kelly has continued to be the top runner for the Bulldogs this fall. He’ll be making his fourth straight appearance in the WCC Championship. He finished 28th last year in 25:40, was 21st as a sophomore in 26:09 and was 30th as a freshman in 2009 in 26:29. His best effort of the fall was 23:39.15 to finish 12th in the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the same course he will run Saturday in the WCC Championship. He finished fifth in the Inland Empire Championship in Lewiston, Idaho, covering the 8K in 24:57 in the final tune-up prior to the WCC Championship.



Willie Milam
Junior Portland, Ore. Jesuit


Milam is another returning home Saturday, having run several high school races on the Fernhill Park course in Portland, Ore., that will host the WCC Championship. Milam, who helped pick up the slack in Chris Boyle’s redshirt season last fall, was the second Bulldog across the finish line in the 2011 WCC Championship in 25:55. As a freshman he was 37th in 26:54, making Saturday his third WCC Championship. His best 8K time this fall was 23:51.28 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park to finish 17th.



Colin O’Neil
Sophomore Redmond, Wash. Inglemoor


O’Neil will be making his first appearance in the WCC Championship. His best outing this fall was 24:08.21 to finish 29th at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., site of Saturday’s WCC Championship. He finished 11th at the Inland Empire Championship in 25:20 in the final tune-up for the Bulldogs prior to the WCC Championship.



Patrick Richie
Senior Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids


Richie opened the season running unattached at the Clash of the Inland Northwest at Spokane’s Mead High School, but any thoughts of redshirting him went by the wayside. His best outing of the fall was a 24:40.90 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., to finish 45th. Fernhill Park is the site of Saturday’s WCC Championship which will be the third for Richie. He finished 38th last season in 26:19 and was 37th as a freshman in 2009 in 26:40.



Nick Roche
Sophomore Tigard, Ore. Tigard


Roche is one of the youngsters head coach Pat Tyson is looking to in the future to replace the likes of Chris Boyle or Tate Kelly. He’ll be making his first appearance in the WCC Championship. His best performance this year was 24:20.43 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., and he’s another Oregonian on the Bulldog roster returning to his home state and Fernhill Park for Saturday’s championship.



Robert Walgren
Junior Anchorage, Alaska Service


Walgren could be the sleeper among the Bulldogs as he’s been a model of consistency since arriving on the scene. He’ll be making his third appearance in the WCC Championship after finishing 37th a year ago in 26:08 and 32nd as a freshman in 2010 in 26:32. His top outing this fall was a 23:52.81 to finish 19th at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of Saturday’s WCC Championship. He placed 12th at the Inland Empire Championship in Lewiston, Idaho, in 25:24, the final tune-up for the Bulldogs prior to this Saturday’s championship.



Lauren Bergam
Junior Spokane, Wash. East Valley


Bergam returned to action this season after redshirting a year ago because of her academic load. This will be her third WCC Championship, finishing 30th as a freshman in 22:56 and 23rd as a sophomore in 2010 in 22:24. The only 6K Gonzaga ran this season was at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., where she finished eighth in 21:33.43. The WCC Championship will be run on the Fernhill Park layout. She placed fifth at the Inland Empire Championship in Lewiston, Idaho, in the final tune-up for the WCC Championship, covering the 5K course in 18:07.



Krista Beyer
Junior Seattle, Wash. Seattle Prep


Beyer will be running her second WCC Championship after finishing 29th in 22:33 last season as a sophomore. Her only 6K time this season was 22:45.85 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., site of this year’s WCC Championship. She ran an 18:18 5K to place 40th at the Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon.



Meghan Blanchet
Junior Tacoma, Wash. Bellarmine Prep


Blanchet will be competing in her first WCC Championship. She has not run a competitive 6K for the Bulldogs since her freshman year of 2010 when she ran a 24:46.93 at the Sundodger Invitational at Seattle’s Lincoln Park in the season opener. She turned in an 18:20 5K to finish 42nd at this year’s Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon.



Lindsey Drake
Senior San Diego, Calif. Cathedral Catholic


After sitting out last spring’s track season with a femur injury, Drake returned to action this fall. This will be her third WCC Championship, finishing 45th in 25:04 as a freshman in 2008 and placing 73rd last year in 24:24 as she was hampered with dehydration. The only 6K meet Gonzaga competed in this fall was the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of Saturday’s WCC Championship. She was fourth in 21:22.69. She was 13th in 17:13 for 5K at the Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon.



Amelia Evans
Freshman Colorado Springs, Colo. Air Academy


One of the promising youngsters on this year’s women’s team, Evans made her mark early with a third-place finish at the season opening Clash of the Inland Northwest at Spokane’s Mead High, covering the 4.2-mile course in 14:15.6. She did not run in the Bulldogs lone 6K event of the year at the WCC Preview. She posted a 5K time of 17:49 in finishing 31st at the Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon and placed sixth in 18:08 at the Inland Empire Championship in Lewiston, Idaho, the final tune0-up for the Bulldogs prior to the WCC Championship.



Maggie Jones
Sophomore Richland, Wash. Richland


Jones didn’t let the sophomore jinx hit her, turning in another solid season after finishing 25th in 22:20 in her inaugural WCC Championship as a freshman. Her only 6K time of the season was 21:22.96 to finish fifth at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., site of Saturday’s WCC Championship. She placed eighth in the Inland Empire Championship, covering the 5K Lewiston, Idaho, course in 18:16 in the final tune-up for the Zags prior to the WCC Championship. She finished 21st in 17:36 at the 5K Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon.



Catherine Theobald
Junior Bend, Ore. Bend


Theobald is returning to her home state for her second WCC Championship appearance. She finished 54th a year ago in 23:16. Her lone 6K time this fall was 22:21.56 to finish 20th at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of Saturday’s championship. She finished 15th in the Inland Empire Championship in 18:39 over the Lewiston, Idaho, 5K course in Gonzaga’s final tune-up for the WCC Championship.



Emily Thomas
Junior Washougal, Wash. Camas


After earning All-WCC honors last season with her ninth-place finish, Thomas is ready for another strong showing this season as she competes in her third straight WCC Championship. She was Gonzaga’s top place last year in 21:15. In her lone 6K outing this fall she finished third in 21:12.00 at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., the site of Saturday’s championship. She finished 22nd at the 5K Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon in 17:36 and was third in the Inland Empire Championship in 17:47 over the 5K Lewiston, Idaho, layout, the final tune-up for the Bulldogs prior to Saturday’s WCC Championship. She also made the headlines last spring as Gonzaga’s inaugural qualifier for the NCAA Track and Field West Regional, competing in the 10,000 meters.



Lara Tuthill
Sophomore Boise, Idaho Bishop Kelly


Tuthill will be competing in her second WCC Championship, finishing 46th in 23:34 as a freshman in 2010. He lone 6K time this fall was 22:42.81 to finish 35th at the WCC Preview at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore., site of this year’s WCC Championship. She finished 18th in the Inland Empire Championship in 18:43 over the %K layout in Lewiston, Idaho, the final tune-up for the Bulldogs prior to the WCC Championship. She placed 51st in 18:37 at the 5K Bill Dellinger Invitational hosted by the University of Oregon.