The Southern Oregon University men’s cross country team is the favorite to claim what would be its seventh consecutive Cascade Collegiate Conference title according to the league’s preseason coaches’ poll, released Thursday.
The SOU women were voted second behind only league favorite Northwest Christian.
For the SOU men, who garnered all nine first-place votes for 81 poll points, senior Eric Ghelfi is the top returner and only returning All-American after placing fifth at the conference championships and 20th at nationals last season. Also for SOU, Jared Hixon, Kevin Jorgensen, Zach Boyd-Helm and Trevor Lynn figure to be key contributors. Hixon, a 1,500-meter All-American in track, placed 36th at nationals, Jorgensen, an 800 All-American in the spring, placed 78th. Boyd-Helm and Lynn were also track All-Americans.
Eastern Oregon was voted No. 2 in the men’s poll with 69 points, Concordia was third (56) and College of Idaho fourth (51).
The Southern Oregon men placed second at the NAIA national championships last fall, their fourth consecutive top-three finish. The Raiders will be trying to overcome the loss of Eric Avila, who graduated in June. Last season, Avila won the conference championship followed by the NAIA national championship, becoming the school’s first cross country national champion since 1978.
The Southern Oregon women, who did not attract a first-place vote, are coming off a third-place conference finish in 2013. The Raiders are led by Rebecca Lupescu and Summer Cano. Lupescu placed 69th at nationals and Cano, who battled injuries after a good showing at the Stanford Invitational, came in 81st. SOU head coach Grier Gatlin is also expecting good things out of Jessie Rozario, who placed 21st at the 2013 CCC meet, and Aspen Abbott, who was 31st.
The Northwest Christian women, who picked up eight first-place votes and 80 total poll points, placed second at districts last year and will be looking for their first CCC championship. Defending champion College of Idaho was voted third and grabbed the other first-place vote.
Southern Oregon begins its 2014 schedule Sept. 13 at the Humboldt State Invitational in Arcata, Calif. The CCC preview meet is Sept. 19 in Portland.