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BREAKTHROUGH: Eastern Oregon's Suzy Campbell finished strong two weeks ago at the Eagle Invite, which was on the same course she will run Saturday at the NAIA Region I Championships. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
BREAKTHROUGH: Eastern Oregon's Suzy Campbell finished strong two weeks ago at the Eagle Invite, which was on the same course she will run Saturday at the NAIA Region I Championships. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

Running between blackberry bushes doesnt sound like fun.

Running between blackberry bushes in a narrow lane with dozens of other runners sounds like an extreme sport.

Its collegiate cross country, and for runners at the Region I Championships Saturday, its part of their experience at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, Wash.

The Eastern Oregon Mountaineers have an advantage in that they ran the same course two weeks ago and experienced the tight turns, the blackberry bushes and the rain-slick bridges that make the race a challenge.

I wouldnt want to pitch headfirst into that, Eastern Oregon coach Ben Welch said about the blackberry gauntlet.

Easterns men go into the region race ranked third in the NAIA, but region rivals Northwest Nazarene, British Columbia and Simon Fraser are ranked fourth, eighth and 12th. The region champion gets an automatic bid to the national championships Nov. 17 in Kenosha, Wis., but 14 at-large bids mean all four teams will likely make the field.

Northwest Nazarene, Simon Fraser and British Columbia did not run two weeks ago at the Eagle Invite at Lake Sammamish, so theyll have to prepare quickly for the course. A half-mile into the race, theres a 90-degree turn onto a wooden bridge that will be slimy if wet. Across the bridge, theres another 90-degree turn through mud that leads to the 8-foot-wide section between blackberry bushes. Leave the brambles, then theres four 90- to 140-degree turns out of that section.

At the end of the mens race, in the last 150 feet, there are two 90-degree turns that make sprinting to the finish difficult.

Youre got to start making a move earlier, Welch said.

Easterns men won the Eagle Invite, with Eric Griffiths finishing fourth in 24 minutes, 50 seconds, three seconds behind the winner.

Tim Riley busted that race wide open and just lost it on the corners, Welch said.

The Mountaineers have worked corners the past two weeks, even spending a day at McKay Park in Pendleton trying to mimic the course conditions.

The womens 5,000-meter race does not have as many turns as the mens 8,000-meter course. Regardless, Eastern needs its best race of the season to get to the national meet.

Theyll have to run beyond very good, Welch said.

At the Eagle Invite, Eastern finished behind Southern Oregon, which had a very strong race, Welch said, but the Raiders were not rated in the next NAIA poll, and that hurt the Mountaineers chances of getting ranked.

Welch felt Southern Oregon should have been in the top 20. As it stands, Eastern is ranked eighth out of the 12 teams in the region that will compete Saturday not enough to get to nationals.

Individually, the top 10 in each race qualify for nationals, and three Mountaineers have a shot at that. Lisa Muilenburg, Deborah Moyer and Suzy Campbell all have had strong races this season, with Muilenburg setting a personal best at the Eagle Invite by 45 seconds.


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