PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers will enter this weekend's home meet, the L&C Invite, as a nationally-ranked team, new territory for the team.
Appearing at No. 35 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division III Men's Cross Country National Coaches' Poll last week, the men's cross country team is in the national conversation for the first time since receiving votes in the poll during the 2010 season. According to the USTFCCCA, Lewis & Clark has not been ranked nationally dating back to 2006.
"From early in the summer this team has set healthy goals," said Director of Cross Country and Track and Field, Keith Woodard. "The consistency and dedication they have shown throughout is now paying off as they are closing in on those goals."
The Pioneers have been in the top ten overall in both of their big competitions this year, including a seventh-place finish at the 43rd Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational on Sept. 30, their last race. Lewis & Clark was the third-best Northwest Conference team in the event. Two weeks prior at the Sundodger Invitational, the Pios were sixth overall and the top NCAA Div. III finisher. Lewis & Clark finished with better results than NCAA Div. II teams Concordia, Alaska Fairbanks and Central Washington.
Sean Richardson has excelled in his second year. With a hefty personal record, the sophomore finished 13th in the entire 217-runner field at the Sundodger Invitational. He finished 18th at the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational, two spots behind Jeff Mullins and a spot ahead of Blake Slattengren, both of whom are seniors. Both Mullins and Slattengren have been All-West Region selections during the last two seasons. Additionally, Matthew White has been one of the Pioneers' top performers as a freshman, and Lewis & Clark also has last year's NWC Freshman of the Year Liam Monheim.
Lewis & Clark is the only NWC team in the national poll, moving ahead of Willamette, which was ranked No. 35 two weeks ago. The Pioneers are also the highest-ranked team, fourth, in the West Region rankings. Pacific Lutheran is No. 5, Willamette is No. 6 and Whitworth is No. 10.
Still, Woodard says the team knows the rankings only matter if the team competes well at their races in the coming weeks.
"The regional and national recognition is nice since it puts us on the big stage, but the team is focused on their goals and not getting distracted by things outside their control like polls and rankings," said Woodard.
The L&C Invite is the team's final tune-up before the Northwest Conference Championships on Oct. 28, which is the first of three postseason races over a four-week span.