Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds cross country team will continue its season in the midwest this Saturday for the 2014 Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) Conference Championships hosted by Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa. The competition, about 140 miles west of Chicago, features both the No. 1 ranked women’s squad and No. 7 ranked men, both of whom enter the weekend as the favourites following a three-week hiatus.

This year’s A.I.I. Championships will prove to be new territory for the entire conference as Ashford University will host the competition for the first time in school history. This year will be the first time since 2008 that a school other than California State San Marcos will be hosting the prequel to the NAIA Cross Country Championships.

“Travelling to Clinton, Iowa will be unchartered territory for our team,” added two-time NAIA Coach of the Year Marek Jedrzejek. “The regional competition has occasional surprises due to the smaller number of teams, but as always we expect stiff competition from California State San Marcos University, just like in previous years.”

California State San Marcos and UBC will likely run away from the rest of the field, as the Cougars are ranked 10th on the men’s side and third on the women’s side. To say the Independent Association has been dominating the NAIA in recent years would be an understatement, as no team outside the conference has won a women’s NAIA Cross Country title since 2008. The Cougars won three consecutive from 2009-2011 while the T-Birds are currently the two-time defending champions.

En route to last year’s national championships, the women’s team held the No. 1 ranking for the entirety of the season, just the third team in history to accomplish the feat of topping every regular season ranking en route to winning the NAIA Cross Country Championship. The CSUSM women accomplished that same feat when the Cougars won in 2011. This season the T-Birds have reeled off six consecutive first-place unveilings after Biola (Calif.) took this seasons’ first two weekly polls.

The women seek their third consecutive A.I.I. title while the men will hope to take home that banner for the first time in school history. Since the A.I.I. was formed, UBC has finished no higher than second as California State San Marcos has been the victor for six straight seasons.

Fourth-year Calgary native Maria Bernard earned the conference’s Most Outstanding Athlete Award last season en route to an individual victory and the team victory. A year prior, Jackie Regan took the race’s top spot, which began the two-year streak of female winners for UBC in the 5-km race.

The winning team on both the men’s and women’s side earn an automatic berth to the 2014 NAIA Cross Country Championships while second place requires an at-large berth in order to qualify.

Maria Bernard Will Cliff
Amelie de Fenoyl Evan Elder
Tamara Harris Jack Williams
Devan Wiebe Bilal Shamsi
Kirsten Lee Ben Thorne
Jackie Regan Matt Galea
Natalia Hawthorn John Gay
Madelyn Brunt Devin Rajala
Sandra Kilmartin Jeff Groh