Nov. 9, 2012
SEATTLE - One of the nation's top collegiate cross country meets went down on a perfect fall Seattle day today as the Huskies hosted the NCAA West Regional Championships at Jefferson Park Golf Course. Several thousand fans lined the fairways and darted amongst the trees to support the Dawgs, as both Husky squads finished in the top-five in fields of more than 25 teams from up and down the West Coast.
This was the first time that Seattle had played host to the NCAA West Regional meet, and the first time the meet was run in the state of Washington since 1995. The top-two finishing teams at the nine Regional meets across the country earn automatic entry into the NCAA Championships, just eight days away now on Nov. 17 in Louisville.
The Husky women's team, ranked seventh nationally, was unable to capture a fifth-consecutive Regional title, but still had their best race of the season according to Head Coach Greg Metcalf, and should be in line for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships when the full fields are announced tomorrow morning by the NCAA selection committee.
The third-ranked Oregon women's team won with 64 points. Fourth-ranked Arizona and fifth-ranked Stanford tied for second with 85 points, and the Huskies were fourth with 96 points, well ahead of San Francisco which finished fifth with 151 points.
The men finished fifth overall, their best Regionals finish since 2009, but despite being just one spot lower than the women's team finished, the Husky men will be waiting anxiously for the official selections to find out if they made the 31-team NCAA field.
In the final men's results, third-ranked Stanford earned the title with 45 points. Ninth-ranked Portland earned the other auto spot, placing second with 107 points. No. 27 UCLA was third with 128, No. 11 Oregon finished fourth with 135, and the Huskies were fifth with 165 points, ahead of 25th-ranked Arizona State which was sixth with 218 points.
"We talked about this the first day of practice, being ready for the November and the Regional Championships in Seattle," said Coach Metcalf. "I am incredibly proud of what our teams did today. We talked about what we wanted to come do here, and our only goal is to walk away from the run to our capabilities. Both teams that was as well as they've run all year long. Our women, the way they ran today frequently wins this meet, but they'll go to the national meet with a lot of confidence. The men, we are squarely on the bubble, and hopefully we'll get good news, but we ran a great race today and I loved the effort."
It's the fifth time in the past eight years that the men have finished in the top-five at West Regionals, while the Husky women have been a top-five finisher every year since 1988.
One Husky assured of going to the NCAA Championships is senior Joey Bywater, as the Lake Stevens, Wash. product extended his Husky cross country career for one more race by virtue of his eighth-place finish today. The top-four Regional finishers that are not on a qualifying team earn individual spots at nationals, so even if the Huskies miss out as a team, Bywater will get to make his second trip to the NCAA meet, and first since his redshirt freshman year in 2009.
Bywater went to the front of the lead pack early to the cheers of the pro-Husky crowd lining the course. After dropping back out of the top-10 late in the race, the final 2,000-meters saw the fifth-year senior charge back towards the front and finish the 10,000-meter course in a time of 29-minutes, 53-seconds. His eighth-place finish is the best by a Husky since Jeremy Mineau also placed eighth in 2008.
Fellow fifth-year senior Rob Webster, Jr. also delivered a great run in what could have been his final cross country appearance. The Puyallup native finished 27th overall, a career-best at Regionals, in 30:19.
"I've always believed that when the Regional and NCAA Championships come around, you need experienced, tough seniors on your team to get you where you want to be, and Joey and Robby were exactly that today and I could not be more proud of the two of them," said Metcalf. "They've given a lot to this program and ran two of the best races of their careers today."
Freshman Tyler King and sophomore Aaron Beattie crossed nearly side-by-side as King finished in 40th-place in his first ever 10,000-meters, clocking 30:27, and Beattie was 41st a second later. That finish for Beattie was two spots higher than a year ago, but last season that made him the top Husky finisher, showing just how much stronger the Dawgs proved to be this fall. Capping the top-five was sophomore Aaron Nelson, who was 49th overall, an improvement of 18 places over his freshman year Regionals run.
Gareth Gilna was 59th overall and Michael Miller, Jr. was 111th to round out UW's top-seven. Both of those efforts were big improvements over a year ago, as Gilna improved by 54 spots from 2011 and Miller improved 34 spots.
In the earlier women's race, the Huskies put together an excellent pack from one to five, led by junior All-American Katie Flood, who rebounded well from a tough Pac-12 outing, to be the first Husky across the line today in 15th-place. Flood covered the 6,000-meter course in 20:05.
Within the next 10 seconds, the rest of the scoring five sprinted across the finish line for the Huskies. Junior Megan Goethals was 17th in 20:09, just a split second ahead of junior Justine Johnson who was 18th. Next came senior Lindsay Flanagan in 21st-place, and junior Liberty Miller finished 25th in 20:16. The top-25 finishers earn All-West Region honors, and Oregon and Washington are the only two schools who will have their full top-five in that category.
The overall experience was a celebratory one, with countless alumni on hand including U.S. Olympian Aretha Thurmond, who will be honored at the Husky football game Saturday night. The majority of the Husky track squad was on hand to cheer on their teammates and help run the meet, and started up a "Go Huskies" chant back and forth across the starting line at the beginning of each race.
"It was a very fun experience on a gorgeous day," said Metcalf, "and it felt like standing in Husky Stadium there for a minute with the cheering of the fans."