WALLA WALLA — Coach Scott Shields is holding out hope that Saturday’s NCAA Division III West Regional Cross Country Championships at the Oak Knoll Golf Course in Independence, Ore., won’t be the last race that Whitman College twin sisters Emilie and Katri Gilbert run together at the collegiate level.
The top two teams and the first seven individual finishers other than members of those teams will qualify for the D-3 national meet the following weekend in Terre Haute, Ind. And Shields, who is wrapping up his third season in charge of the school’s cross country program, believes the big meet is within stride of the Bellevue, Wash., senior duo.
Emilie, who has consistently been the faster of the two throughout their running careers, has already been to nationals twice. She first qualified as a freshman in 2009 and again last year as a junior, when she clocked the third-fastest time in school history and broke the 23-minute barrier for the first time in her career.
Katri, so far, hasn’t been able to break through.
“Katri does have a chance,” Shields said. “I’m super hopeful for her to have another great race. She was only a second or two behind her sister at the conference meet, although that could be a difference of five to 10 places this weekend.”
It won’t be easy for any of his runners to qualify for nationals, Shields emphasized.
“Our region is really senior dominated, especially when it comes to women runners,” the coach said. “Emilie will need another great race to qualify.”
Emilie placed ninth and Katri 10th at the Northwest Conference Championships two weeks ago at the Sunset Grove Golf Course in Forest Grove, Ore. At the West Regional meet, the nine Northwest Conference schools will be joined by members of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, plus several independent schools.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps brings a No. 15 national ranking into Saturday’s meet and looms as the team to beat on the women’s side of the ledger. NWC rivals Willamette University and Lewis & Clark are both ranked in the top 25.
And therein lies some added hope for Whitman’s fortunes, Shields suggested.
“There’s a chance that a third team from our region could be invited to the national meet as a wild-card team,” Shields said. “If one of our NWC schools could upset Claremont, that just might happen.”
And if it does, he explained, it would create spots later in the order of finish for individuals to qualify.
“No matter what, it’s going to be a great race and a really fun race to watch,” Shields said. “It’s a tremendously strong field, but I have confidence that Emilie can do it.”
More realistically for most of his runners, Shields said, earning all-region honors is the goal. That goes to the top 35 finishers in the women’s and men’s races.
“Emilie and Katri, obviously, but also Shannon McCarty and Emily Williams,” Shields said. “I’m hopeful for both of them as well.”
McCarty placed 24th at the conference race and Williams was close behind her in 26th place.
For the Whitman men, senior Cory Rand and senior Taylor Mosojednik are the top two contenders. Rand placed 16th at the conference meet and Mosojednik finished 26th.
“Cory and Taylor have been running pretty solid all season,” Shields said, noting that Rand was all-conference and all-region as a freshman. “They have been trading off one and two for us all season, and Cory has been a little more solid the last couple of races. Taylor had a bad race at conference.”
Rounding out the men’s team that will run Saturday are junior Spencer Corwin; sophomore Carl Garrett; junior Joe Mayo; sophomore Colin Domonoske; and junior Taylor Nelson.
Corwin finished 36th at the conference meet, Garrett placed 40th, Mayo 45th and Domonoske 51st. Nelson did not compete at the conference meet but is stepping in for senior Chris Farly, who was 53rd two weeks ago but has opted not to run this weekend and concentrate on a heavy class load instead.
All seven of the Missionary men do have regional experience, Shields noted.
The other three members of the women’s team are freshman Julie Wood, who placed 38th at the conference meet; sophomore Erin Campbell, who was 42nd; and senior Lori Mendelsohn, who finished 46th.
The men’s 8K race begins at 11 a.m., followed by the women’s 6K race at noon. The awards ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m.