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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Pilots make run at national trophy this weekend in Indiana

COURTESY PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Reuben Kiprono and the University of Portland men's cross-country team has their eyes set on Saturdays national championship race.As has become the habit, the Portland Pilots men's cross-country team is finding its stride in time for the biggest races of the season.

Fresh off their third NCAA Division I West Region title in a row and fourth in program history, the Pilots will take another run at a podium spot at the national championship race. This is the 20th time the Pilots men's team has qualified for the nationals.

The 2019 NCAA championships take place Saturday in Terra Haute, Indiana.

Northern Arizona is favored to win its fourth consecutive title and BYU and Colorado are projected as clearly in the top three. But the Pilots should carry confidence into the race after winning the region despite their projected second and third runners coming in as non-scorers at last week's race.

"Essentially, we did what we did (at regionals) without two of our top three projected guys," UP coach Rob Conner said.

The Pilots are led by senior Emmanuel "Manu" Roudolff-Levisse, who will be competing in his third national championship after a strong second-place finish at last Friday's regional. Roudolff-Levisse and Washington's Andrew Jordan led that race at Colfax (Washington) Golf Course throughout, with Roudolff-Levisse finishing the 10,000 meters 1.5 seconds behind Jordan in 29 minutes, 44.9 seconds.

Roudolff-Levisse was Portland's top finisher and an All-American at each of the last two national meets. He finished 11th in 2017, when the Pilots finished second as a team. Last November, slowed by a minor injury in the weeks leading up to nationals, his 21st place helped the Pilots place third.

"Now that his confidence is back up to normal, you'll see him be very aggressive at the nationals and hopefully be in the lead pack," Conner said.

Conner said Roudolff-Levisse's best race of the season at regionals bodes well for the Pilots this week.

In March, Roudolff-Levisse won the national cross-country championship race in his native France. Three weeks later, he placed 50th in the cross-country world championships. In late September, he ran the Berlin Marathon in 2:14:32. Three weeks after that, he was Portland's fastest man at the competitive Nuttycomb Invitational at Madison, Wisconsin.

"He's got good experience. The other guys can take confidence from that," Conner said.

This also is the third trip to nationals for Caleb Webb, whose 54th-place finish as the Pilots' fifth finisher in 2017 clinched the second-place trophy. The redshirt senior from Big Bear Lake, California, fell and lost a shoe at regionals, resulting in a disappointing 43rd place for the runner considered the No. 2 Pilot.

"He was extremely disappointed and is highly motivated for this week," Conner said.

Portland won the regional with 65 points. Stanford (78), Oregon (90) and Washington (115) trailed the Pilots.

The Pilots got a lift from personal-best 10,000 meter cross-country times posted by redshirt sophomore Evert Silva (12th, 30:02.4), senior Michael Teran-Solano (13th, 30:02.5), redshirt junior Riley Osen (18th, 30:03.4) and redshirt senior Joe Horen (20th, 30:06.8).

Redshirt junior Reuben Kiprono also had a PR at regionals (23rd, 30:09,4). The Kenyan was the Pilots' top finisher at the West Coast Conference championships on Nov. 1, finishing sixth in that 8,000-meter race.

In addition to the elite field on Saturday, the hilly and muddy course and a forecast calling for temperatures in the 30s with a slight breeze will challenge runners.

"I think the course will suit us just fine," Conner said. "It's just a matter of running it one step at a time and being as tough and positive as you can."

• Portland sophomore Anna Pataki earned an at-large bid to the NCAA women's championships after placing ninth at the West regional with a 6,000-meter time of 20:07.3.

• The Oregon men's and women's cross-country teams earned at-large bids to the nationals. It is the 44th nationals, and eighth in a row, for the Duck men. It is the 31st nationals, and 13th in a row, for the Duck women.

• Saturday's women's 6K championship race is schedule for 8:15 a.m. PT, followed by the men's 10K race at 9:15 a.m. PT.

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