Expectations High for Gonzaga Harriers in 2015
Troy Fraley

Aug. 30, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Gonzaga women's and men's cross country programs return experienced runners this season and enter the year with achievable goals, beginning with the Clash of the Inland Northwest in Colfax Tuesday.

Just like week the Zags received some of their highest West Coast Conference preseason rankings in program history. The men were picked third, while the women were fourth. Both were slated right in the mix in the annual coaches' poll. Amelia Evans and Shelby Mills became only the third and fourth Bulldogs to ever be named preseason All-WCC.

"We have a deep team," GU women's head coach Patty Ley said. "Shelby comes into this cross country season very near where she left off last fall. Amelia looks stronger as well. We will platoon the team a bit over the first three meets in order to balance the racing workload and training. We're hoping to come together in the second half of the season to make a strong push into the postseason. I'm excited for the women this season. We are focusing on the process and know that if we can remain true to that and to a commitment to excellence - really good things will happen."

Last season the Gonzaga women came in fifth at the WCC Championships, led by a seventh-place finish by Mills and a ninth-place finish from Evans. It was the first time since 2000 that the Zags had multiple finishers in the top-10 at the conference championships. Mills would later become the first GU student-athlete to ever compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

"Joining Shelby and Amelia for cross this year after red-shirting last year are Jessica Mildes and Maggie Jones. WCC Championship returners Jordan Thurston and Olivia Evans are showing great improvement and are hanging with that front group in early workouts. Zoe Urcadez, Elena Slavoski, Katy Culver and Erin Bergmann are working back into shape after a injuries or illnesses. A terrific surprise has been Julie Henling who has improved leaps and bounds, and is setting the pace for the team improvement."

In her first year with GU in 2014, Mildes broke the program's 5,000 and 10,000-meter records. The transfer from Spokane Falls Community College looks to build off her phenomenal first season at Gonzaga. She has two years of eligibility left in cross country. Jones was a NCAA regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters last spring. She holds the third-fastest 5K time in program history.

Gonzaga Director of Cross Country and Track Pat Tyson believes this year's Zag men's team is the deepest in program history. The Bulldogs were picked in the WCC preseason poll right where they finished last season at the conference championships, in third place. The WCC coaches think highly of the GU men as well, picking them third, despite having no selections on the conference's preseason team. Troy Fraley, Kyle Branch and Danny Lunder all return after top-25 finishes at last season's WCC Championships.

"Fraley comes back as our number one man and really has shown another level of strength as he continues to mature in the system we have set up at Gonzaga," Tyson said. "Transfer graduate-student Vince Hamilton has a lot of Fraley's qualities. He will mix it up front with the Zags. Add in a number of our program's best all-time runners, top Washington Prep star Scott Kopczynski, and a host of others, will makeup our 30-man squad."

Fraley, Branch, and Danny Lunder all ran three of the top seven times in program history over an 8,000-meter course at the WCC Championships last year. Hamilton placed 13th at the Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships last season while at Eastern Washington. He finished 17th the year before. Kopczynski had a pair of top-five finishes at the state high school championships, and ran in the NXN Championships.

"This is a special team," Tyson said. "Our theme is to be a team `That is Hot.' We do not want any team member to be luke-warm. I sense a total team commitment to work together and create a program of amazing excellence. I really do enjoy the enthusiasm of the guys this preseason and get the feeling it will not be short lived. This is the heart and soul of a special season in Zagland! I'm really pumped for the Men of Gonzaga!"

The Zags host the conference championships this season at Plantes Ferry Park on Oct. 31. The same course will host the WCC Preview/Erik Anderson Invitational on Sept. 19.

"We're excited about hosting the WCC Championship," Ley said. "We know this will be an awesome experience for all the teams, and each year our championship has become more and more competitive. The team race will provide a lot of excitement to those who come to watch."

The Clash of the Inland Northwest begins with the men's 6K race at 6 p.m., followed by the women's 4K race at 6:30. The races will be run on the Colfax Golf Course.



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