With members in five states and the province of Canada, and with a strong presence in or near the largest city of each, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has established itself as one of the top NCAA Division II athletic conferences in the nation during its 11-year history.
Founded in 2001, GNAC teams have had a remarkable 62 NCAA Division II top 10 national team finishes in 14 of the 16 sports it sponsors.
The 2011-12 academic year was perhaps the conference’s best, and was highlighted by Western Washington capturing the GNAC’s first NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship. The Vikings defeated University of Montevallo (Ala.) 72-65 as millions of fans watched the game televised nationally on CBS.
The Vikings were one of four GNAC men’s teams to qualify for the national tournament and had to get by fellow conference member Seattle Pacific in the regional championship game to qualify for the NCAA Elite Eight in Highland Heights, Ky.
Western Washington was the fourth GNAC team to qualify for the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eight since 2004, joining former member Humboldt State (2004), Seattle Pacific (2006) and Alaska Anchorage (2008) in that exclusive club.
The GNAC has been even more successful in women’s basketball, advancing six teams to the Elite Eight since 2004 when Seattle Pacific made the first of its three appearances. The Falcons finished fifth that year before reaching the national title game in 2005. In 2010, SPU lost in the quarterfinals.
Alaska Anchorage also has made three NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances, including 2012 when it lost in the quarterfinals. The Seawolves reached the national semifinal game in both 2008 and 2009.
In addition to Western Washington and Alaska Anchorage’s basketball squads, six other GNAC teams had national top 10 finishes in 2011-12.
Alaska Anchorage placed eighth and Western Washington 10th in the men’s cross country national championships which were hosted by the GNAC at the Plantes Ferry Athletic Complex in Spokane, Wash. The GNAC will host the cross country national meet again in 2013, also in Spokane.
UAA also finished sixth in the women’s national meet -- its fourth straight national top 10 finish and the GNAC’s 17th overall in cross country, including 10 in the women’s division.
Seattle Pacific earned a national top 10 ranking in men’s basketball, advancing to the West Regional championship before losing to conference foe Western Washington. SPU has qualified for the men’s national tournament in each of the past eight seasons, one of the longest active streaks in the nation.
Alaska Anchorage finished ninth in the NCAA Division II men’s outdoor track and field championships, the best ever finish for a GNAC school. In men’s golf, Western Washington finished ninth in the national tournament, just missing the match play portion of the event.
The conference has exhibited great depth over the years, particularly in basketball, cross country and track and field. Overall, eight different member schools have had national top 10 finishes, including five in men’s basketball and three each in women’s basketball and women’s cross country.
GNAC teams have won three national team titles. In addition to the 2012 Western Washington men’s basketball team, former GNAC member Seattle University won the 2004 NCAA Division II national men’s soccer title before moving up to the Division I level.
Seattle Pacific was the 2008 national champion in women’s soccer. The Falcons also were the 2005 women’s soccer national runners-up.
Also earning second-place national finishes have been Seattle Pacific in women’s soccer (2005), women’s basketball (2005) and women’s cross country (2007), and Western Washington in volleyball (2007).
Seattle Pacific has accounted for 21 of the GNAC’s 62 national top 10 finishes in seven different sports. Western Washington has had 15 in eight sports and Alaska Anchorage 13 in six sports.
GNAC athletes have been successful academically over the years, earning 52 GNAC CoSIDA Academic All-American awards, including 11 during the 2011-12 academic year.
Earning first team honors this past season were Western Washington basketball standout Rory Blanche and Viking track and field decathlete Alex Harrison.
Blanche and Harrison were the 11th and 12th athletes in GNAC history to earn first team CoSIDA honors that are based on both academic and athletic achievement. Twenty-five student athletes have earned second team All-America honors and 16 have been third team All-Americans.
Joining those lists this in 2011-12 were second team selections David Downs (basketball), Nate Seely (track and field), Natty Plunkett (track and field), all of Seattle Pacific; Micah Chelimo (track and field) of Alaska Anchorage; and Western Washington’s Eric Brill (track and field).
Earning third team All-American honors in 2011-12 were Nicole Bozek (women’s basketball) of Alaska Fairbanks; Hanna Johansson (women’s basketball) of Alaska Anchorage, and Seattle Pacific’s Ali Worthen (track and field) and Katy Gross (track and field).
The GNAC’s 11 members are located in one of the most picturesque areas of North America, covering five U.S. states and one Canadian province.
Representing the Evergreen state in the far-flung conference are Central Washington University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University. All four schools are within 110 miles of Seattle, the state’s largest city.
Other conference members include Concordia University, Western Oregon University, which is a short drive from both the capital of Oregon (Salem) and the state’s largest city (Portland); Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, which is located near Idaho’s largest city and capital (Boise); and Montana State University Billings, which is situated in the largest city in the “Treasure” state.
Alaska is the home to charter GNAC members University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, The newest member of the GNAC and the only Canadian member in the NCAA is Simon Fraser University, which is located in Burnaby, B.C., a suburb of Vancouver, B.C.
The GNAC also has a presence in the state of California.
Azusa Pacific University, which is near Los Angeles, Northern California’s Humboldt State University are football affiliate members of the GNAC.
Humboldt State and Seattle University were charter members of the conference. Humboldt left the GNAC following the 2005-06 season to join the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), but remains in the conference as a football-playing member, while Seattle University departed following the 2007-08 season to compete in NCAA Division I.
Montana State Billings joined the GNAC on July 1, 2007. Three years later Simon Fraser was admitted and in 2014 Concordia University joined bringing the GNAC membership total to 11.