Cross-country running in Texas is a hard sell, much like a vacation spent clearing brush on the Bush ranch in Crawford. Meredith Crane knows a...

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Cross-country running in Texas is a hard sell, much like a vacation spent clearing brush on the Bush ranch in Crawford.


Meredith Crane knows a bit about the former, and the change in scenery from Texas A&M to Seattle Pacific seems to suit her just fine.


Crane is the runner to watch at Saturday’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships in Bellingham. Yet after winning three of her four races this fall, the Yakima native is more excited for her 13th-ranked NCAA Division II team than herself.


“I’m just a piece of the puzzle,” said Crane, a junior who qualified for the NCAA Division I championships in her first season with the Aggies. “Being ranked nationally and with such an amazing group of women, my main goal is to get all of us to nationals.”


The Falcons are favored to win their second GNAC crown in three years, and are vying for their first trip to the NCAA II meet since 1999.


Crane insists she doesn’t miss running the flatland of her home state.


“There was always a joke — that to do a hill workout you had to run the on and off ramps to the interstate,” she recalled.


Pick of the week


Men’s soccer

Washington vs. California, at Husky Soccer Field, Friday, 7 p.m.


The scoop: Huskies (8-3-1 overall, 2-2-1 Pac-10), who beat the same two teams last weekend, try for a series sweep against No. 12 California (9-3-1, 2-3-0) Friday and Stanford on Sunday.


Crane came back to the Northwest after being hobbled by injuries and weakened by illness. She’s in her best shape since her self-described “phenomenal start” two years ago.


“I realized that I really run because I love the nature, the beauty,” she said. “To run on a road — turn left, turn right, turn left — it wasn’t keeping me happy. I just sort of broke down.”


Crane craves the tall trees, hills, the undulating terrain of course in the Northwest. She’s especially fond of the Lake Padden Park course near Bellingham, site of the GNAC meet. Two weeks ago, Crane ran the second-fastest time by a collegian in the eight-year history of Padden’s 6,000-meter trail.


“I’m not fast,” said Crane. “I just don’t tire out. I can sustain a very strong, hard pace for a very long amount of time, and I’m pretty tough in terms of pushing through the pain.”


Crane has seen that pain often gives way to good times. “Going to nationals as a team would be so much fun,” she said, “and I think we can do it.”


Other SPU sports


Men’s soccer: Ross Vaillancourt (Bedford, N.H.), who has two goals and four assists in the last four games, will start his 50th straight game Saturday, when No. 5 SPU (10-2-3) travels to Humboldt State.


Volleyball: The No. 18 Falcons’ (15-5) 2.75 blocks per game is their highest average in nine years and .222 attack percentage is their best since 1999. SPU’s next victory would be its highest season total since going 20-8 in 2001.


Women’s soccer: Defender Mollie Taylor (Westlake Village, Calif.) will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury but All-American sweeper Michelle Everson (Stadium of Tacoma) may return this week after missing three games when No. 2 SPU (13-0-1) seeks its 20th straight home GNAC win Saturday night against Northwest Nazarene.


Seattle U.


Cross country: Unbeaten Casey Moriarty (O’Dea) hopes to become Seattle U.’s first individual conference champion Saturday at Lake Padden Park.


Men’s soccer: Seattle University has scored 21 goals in its last five matches and has outscored its opponents 21-5 in that span.


Volleyball: Maggie Safranski (Portland) has 1,851 digs in her career and needs 149 to become just the 15th player in NCAA II history with 2,000 career digs. She is already the GNAC career digs record holder.


Women’s soccer: Despite being with the program for less than two seasons, sophomore Ashley Porter (Inglemoor) already ranks No. 9 in career assists at Seattle University with 14.


Washington


Men’s soccer: Senior goalkeeper Chris Eylander (Auburn Riverside) was Pac-10 player of the week and selected to the Top Drawer soccer national team, and the Huskies (8-3-1) have registered three straight shutouts and allowed just two goals through the first half of their Pac-10 schedule.


Volleyball: Coach Jim McLaughlin is two wins from his 100th victory at Washington (16-0), which is ranked No. 2 and has a one-match conference lead entering contests at Oregon on Friday and Oregon State on Saturday.


Women’s soccer: Eight of the Huskies’ (0-12-3) losses have come against teams now ranked in the Top 25. Two other defeats were dealt by opponents ranked at the time of the game. It doesn’t get easier, as UW visits No. 4 UCLA.


Washington St.


Women’s soccer: Carmen Anderson (Kennewick) had six points in two weekend games. The senior midfielder scored a goal against Arizona State on Friday and had both goals in a 2-1 win over Arizona on Sunday, including a crucial penalty-kick conversion at the 89:59 mark that sent the game into overtime, then the winner on a free kick.


Volleyball: After 20 matches, the Cougars have 3.48 blocks per game, which ranks No. 7 nationally.


Western Washington


Cross country: WWU is looking to be the first two-time GNAC men’s champion as it hosts the GNAC championships on Saturday at Lake Padden Park in Bellingham.


Football: Western (3-4) did not have a turnover in its 38-16 win at Western Oregon on Saturday, the first time that the Vikings have accomplished that since their 2003 opener.


Volleyball: Courtney Schneider (Snohomish) broke her own school record and came up one short of the GNAC mark with 46 digs in the Vikings’ narrow 3-2 loss Saturday at No. 10 Central Washington.


Men’s soccer: The Vikings (2-13-1) have not scored a goal in five of their last six games.


Other colleges


Central Washington: An on-campus memorial service to remember Fabien Coutard, former track-and-field athlete, will be 2 p.m. Sunday in the theater of the Samuelson Union Building (SUB) on campus. Coutard, 22, died Oct. 6 because of injuries suffered in an automobile accident in rural Ellensburg. A native of Maple Valley, Coutard was a 2001 graduate of Tahoma High School. He competed in the 100 and 200 meters and was a key member of Central Washington’s 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams during his three-year career with the Wildcats.


Eastern Washington: The Eagles (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky) will play their 79th homecoming football game against Weber State. Eastern, ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division I-AA, is 46-29-3 all-time in homecoming games.


Evergreen: The women’s soccer team puts a 20-game regular-season unbeaten streak on the line this weekend as the Geoducks host Concordia on Saturday.


Northwest: The Eagles (19-1, 11-1) face Southern Oregon (19-3, 11-1) in a battle for the Cascade Collegiate Conference volleyball title along with the right to host next month’s six-team league tournament.


Gonzaga: The women’s soccer team, ranked 22nd in the latest Soccer American poll, is off to its best start in program history at 10-3-2 and is off to its second-best West Coast Conference start at 1-1-1. Senior goalkeeper Ashley Haugen (Littleton, Colo.) was WCC co-player of the week after posting back-to-back shutouts, tying her own season record of six shutouts.


Pacific Lutheran: In its last seven games, the women’s soccer team (9-3-1, 7-2-1) has won six games and tied one. The men’s team (9-5, 5-3) has won five of its last seven games.


Puget Sound: Senior Cortney Kjar (Sandy, Utah) was named Northwest Conference offensive player of the week in women’s soccer for the fourth time this season after scoring three goals and adding an assist in two wins. Kjar leads the NWC with 14 goals.


Saint Martin’s: Saint Martin’s ended a two-season, 19-match losing skid by beating Alaska Fairbanks on Saturday. Keana Morrisey (Curtis of Tacoma) had 19 kills in the match and 35 for the week to earn GNAC player of the week honors.


Whitman: The Missionaries begin their 2005-06 men’s and women’s swimming seasons with an alumni meet Saturday at 10 a.m. at Sherwood Center in Walla Walla. Their next home meet is not until Jan. 13 against Willamette.


Whitworth: The men’s soccer team (11-1-1), ranked sixth in NCAA Division III, set a record for most goals scored in one NWC weekend when the Pirates defeated George Fox 7-0 Saturday and Willamette 6-0 Sunday. Eight different Pirates scored, with Ali Seledali’s (Lake Washington of Kirkland) two goals and two assists earning him NWC offensive player of the week.


Sports information directors


contributed to this notebook.