November 15, 2001 11:00 pm

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

The Eastern Oregon Mountaineers traded victory for strategy two weeks ago at the NAIA Region I mens cross country meet.

Theyre hoping it pays off with victory at the NAIA National Cross Country Championships Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha.

Last year, we were too flat. We backed off too soon in training, coach Ben Welch said. We were willing to sacrifice winning (regionals) to know we were in shape this weekend.

The runners feel good.

I feel a little spark in there, senior Dallas Kinch said.

Kinch is joined on the third-ranked national team by sophomore Brian Crowl, senior Ben Gall, sophomore Eric Griffiths, junior Tim Riley, sophomore Ian Schroeder, junior David Terry and senior Sean Williams.

Eastern was sixth at last years national meet and was ranked seventh going into this season. But the Mountaineers bounced up to fourth in mid-October after a strong performance at the Willamette Invitational and moved to third in the final NAIA rating.

Black Hills State (S.D.) and Life (Ga.) are first and second in the poll.

Easterns toughest competition will come from its own region. Northwest Nazarene won the Region I meet and was ranked fifth in the NAIA poll. British Columbia was second in the region and ranked eighth. Simon Fraser was fourth, behind Eastern, and ranked 10th.

I think it was good for us to get beat at regionals, Welch said. The guys seem to be ready to go.