BROOKS, Ore. - Rookie Erin Campbell and sisters Emilie and Katri Gilbert earned all-conference honors as the Whitman College women's cross team finished fourth on Saturday in a highly competitive field at the NWC Championships at Willamette Mission State Park.
As expected, Lewis & Clark took the team title with 64 place points for its top five runners.
But with a total of nine teams in the race, Willamette was just two points back in second place, and both Linfield and Whitman were not far behind, placing third and fourth, respectively, with 74 and 77 point totals.
"It was a very competitive, very compact race," Whitman coach Scott Shields said. "Having the top four teams finish within 13 points of one another is ridiculously compact."
Whitman entered the race with a No. 25 national ranking, trailing only No. 18 Lewis & Clark.
"It's a little disappointing not to finish in the top two, but we've had some illness running through the team," Shields said. "I also don't think we taper as much for this race as some of the other teams in the conference.
"Our focus all season has been on the regional race in two weeks. That's where we want to peak with our best race of the season."
The West Region race, set for Saturday, Nov. 12, in Pomona, Calif., determines team and individual berths for the NCAA Division III national championships.
"Of our runners, we had three who ran well today and three who didn't run as well as they can," Shields said. "We'll use the next two weeks to get everyone healthy and ready for a strong day at regionals."
The top two teams at regionals get automatic berths at nationals, although the West Region has been advancing a third team in recent years by way of the at-large process.
The top seven runners at regionals not on one of the qualifying teams advance to nationals as individuals.
Campbell, a first-year runner from Santa Barbara, Calif., had Whitman's best finish on Saturday, placing ninth overall in 22:49.30.
"Erin probably had her worst race of the season two weeks ago, so it was great to see her bounce back and run so well today," Shields said. "She felt good and had a strong race from start to finish."
Next in line for Whitman were the Gilbert twins, both juniors. Emilie was 11th in 22:52.36 while Katri was 13th 22:54.19.
All three runners earned spots on the All-NWC Second Team.
"Katri ran well but this wasn't Emilie's best race of the season," Shields. "As much as anyone on our team, Emilie has her sights set on regionals."
Emilie Gilbert finished 10th at last year's NWC Championships, one year after placing 19th in her first season. Katri Gilbert's best previous finish at the conference finals was 44th two years ago.
Two Whitman seniors, Mollee Huisinga and Kelly Jensen, rounded out Whitman's team score on Saturday. Huisinga was 20th in 23:06.13 while Jensen was 24th in 23:14.73.
"Both Mollee and Kelly had great races today," Shields said. "They've run well for us all season."
A year ago at the conference championships, Jensen placed 43rd in 23:35.41 while Huisinga was 52nd in 25:05.34.
Caitlin Iglehart, a first-year runner, paced Whitman's second five on Saturday, placing 34th in 23:32.37.
Filling the next three spots, in order, for Whitman were junior Shannon McCarty (23:38.80), sophomore Skye Pauly (23:39.97) and senior Jennifer Farley (23:40.37).
Junior Lori Mendelsohn also ran for Whitman, placing 61st in 24:57.70.
Both Inglehart and Pauly were among the Whitman runners competing with either head or chest colds, Shields said.
Saturday's race marked the fourth time Farley has run at conference and the second time she placed 37th. Her highest finish came at the end of her sophomore season, when she was 31st.
In placing 36th on Saturday, Pauly made a significant jump from her conference finish last year, when she placed 70th.
"We're really looking forward to the regional race in two weeks," he said. "We know our best race as a team is still in front of us."
Lewis & Clark's Illana Livstrom won Saturday's race in 21:50.04, beating the runner-up by more than 10 seconds.