Jan. 18, 2010
The 2010 track and field season is underway, as Washington hosted the UW Indoor Preview this past Saturday, the first of five exceptional indoor meets that will draw thousands of competitors and produce hundreds of NCAA qualifiers. Meet preparation pushed the final track unit preview into this week, but the first meet also helped shed light on a number of promising freshmen, as well as raise the excitement for an athlete like Scott Roth with his new pole vault PR. It looks to be an extremely intriguing season for Coach Licari's group.
Pole Vault, Jumps, Multis
The athletes that fall under assistant coach Pat Licari's tutelage comprise the most diverse group on the Washington track team. Licari works with athletes that work on fine-tuning one skill such as the pole vaulters, and also helps the multi-event athletes work on a little bit of everything.
It's certainly a challenge tailoring the training for someone like junior pole vaulter Scott Roth, a three-time All-American and the 2009 NCAA Runner-up, along with working on enhancing the skills of a large freshman class of jumpers and multi-event athletes. One key new addition to the program this year is assistant coach Audra Smith, an Idaho State grad, who will help work with UW's multi-events.
Washington's multi-event ranks have swollen this year at least in the early-going, and is led by sophomore Jeremy Taiwo, who earned All-America honors in the heptathlon last season, setting a school record, and then placed third in the Pac-10 decathlon. The women lose their top-two multi-event athletes from last season, but have a big new group waiting to take over.
Of course any preview of the jumps group shouldn't go for long without taking a closer look at Roth, one of the top American pole vaulters, period. After taking second at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last summer, which followed wins at Pac-10s and West Regionals, Roth placed eighth at the U.S. Track & Field Championships, won by Licari's greatest former Husky, Brad Walker.
Defending NCAA Champ Jason Colwick of Rice has earned the right as the NCAA favorite, but Roth leads the list of contenders. He went out and cleared 18-feet at UW's intrasquad meet in December, showing he's ready for his first official indoor season since 2008. Then at the UW Indoor Preview just this past Saturday, Roth cleared a new PR of 18-6 ¾, the second-best vault in the world this year and best in the NCAA.
"By far this is the best Scott's ever been at this point in the season," said Licari. "He's feeling great, feeling healthy, and he's real excited. "I'm sure there will be a couple others that will pop into the picture along with Scott and the vaulter from Rice. But the way Scott's looking now, unless Colwick takes it to another level, I think he should be able to compete with him head-to-head."
Last season, Roth was one of three Huskies that cleared 17-6 outdoors, a first in school history. Graduated senior Jared O'Connor joined him in the finals of NCAAs outdoors, but the third Husky, Ryan Vu, came up just short after an ankle injury at Regionals. Vu, heading into his senior season now, is setting his sights on nationals after making a major breakthrough in 2009.
Ryan's doing really well. I'm hoping he can start the season off where he's capable of, and then go from there," says Licari. "Ryan's always had a ton of potential and just needed to put it all together, and towards the end of last season, he did that. So hopefully he can start with a solid performance and just go from there, and not have to wait the bulk of the season to get it going."
Licari and Vu, who owns Canadian citizenship, see the Canadian national record as a potential goal, which could bring with it the prospect of representing Team Canada at international meets around the world. Making his first NCAA meet indoors would be a big first step.
Last season, senior Andrea Peterson put everything together in her final year, and practically her final meet, as she PR'd by seven inches at West Regionals to place second and earn her first trip to NCAAs in what could have been her final outing. Peterson's outdoor PR went from 12-1 to 13-9 in her last year. This season, the Huskies will be hoping for another surprise season from a group that has experience and similar personal-bests but has yet to impact on the Pac-10 level or beyond.
"Ally Wojciechowski's a senior, and she's had a roller coaster career with injuries but she's doing really well right now and has stayed healthy so I'm hoping she can have a good year," says Licari. Another veteran, Lauren Walker, "hurt her knee last year but she's bouncing back and recovering really well."
Taylor Fjeran and Kelly Mudlo both now have two years experience and Licari thinks they're capable of getting to the mid-12-foot range that has been the Regional standard in past years. The top freshman is Logan Miller from Reno, Nev. who cleared 12-6 in high school and made it over 12-feet in her first outing at the UW Indoor Preview this weekend.
After Roth, Taiwo is the only other returning jumper who brings NCAA experience on the men's side. The Renton native and Newport High grad took 12th in the heptathlon at NCAA Indoors last year and also won the MPSF heptathlon championship in just his second collegiate heptathlon. He qualified for NCAAs in the decathlon outdoors, but couldn't compete due to a recurrence of a foot problem that he had first had surgery to fix in high school. Another surgery was required, but Taiwo is back training and impressing his coach.
"Right now Jeremy's recovery has been awesome," Licari says. "We've taken the whole fall and progressed slowly, little by little. He's at a point now where he's going to compete unattached. We still haven't made a decision whether or not he will compete in uniform this season. But right now everything he's doing out here in practice indicates he's in great shape and his foot's holding up really well."
Taiwo is capable of scoring at least at a conference level in every jumping event as well. He qualified for Regionals in the triple jump last year, but could see his triple jumping to protect his foot for the time being. The horizontal jumps were a bit bare for the men last year in the absence of 2008-grad Norris Frederick, but this year it's looking like Warren Woods, a former Husky football player, will help put UW back in contention as could freshman Cale Fedore from Casper, Wyoming. Woods is also learning the triple jump, while Fedore is training for the multi-events early on.
Leading the women's jumpers is sophomore Kelly McNamee, an NCAA qualifier indoors in the high jump last year and the top freshman finisher. McNamee, a Spokane native, will look to build on the experience she got in the multis last season while keeping the high jump as her primary focus. Reaching both national meets in the high jump is certainly within her capabilities.
"Kelly McNamee dabbled a little bit with the heptathlon but because of some back pain we had to back off of training a little bit last year," says Licari. "But she's been back doing that again and doing really well so I'm excited about Kelly in the high jump as well as what she can do for us in the multi event. She's doing great."
Joining McNamee in the multis will be a pair of freshmen in Shaniae Lakes and Sarah Schireman plus another transfer of sorts. Lindsey Kirschman, who took 11th in the 800-meters at the 2009 Pac-10 meet, has made a unique switch from distance running to the multis.
"The freshmen are coming on really well so we'll see what they can do. Lindsey was training with the cross country group but had some other talents that indicated she might be a good multi-eventer. She's been training with us the whole year and she's doing really well. The Pac-10 has been very strong lately where you practically have to score 5,000 just to score a point in the Pac-10 meet but in the past if you scored 4,600-4,700 you would score. I think all four of the women are all capable of doing that. It's a fun group."
Lakes turned heads this past Saturday, winning the women's long jump with a mark of 39-9 ¾ that already ranks sixth in indoor school history. That mark would have been fifth at the MPSF Championships last year. Along with sophomore Taylor Nichols--another 39-foot triple jumper and the team's top returning long jumper--the Huskies could definitely contend for points at the Pac-10 level in the long and triple jumps this year.
"Last year was Taylor's first year of jumping and she got better and better as the year went on. So I'm excited for her to start off the year strong and be somebody who could jump well over 40-feet in the triple and over 19-feet in the long jump. She leads the pack there," Licari said.
It's far from a one-man show in the men's multis as well, with returners Andrew Ferleman and Jake Vetter expecting to continue their development. Ferleman was fifth in the heptathlon at MPSFs last year and improved his decathlon PR to 6,357 points in a 10th-place finish at Pac-10s. Vetter learned the ropes a year ago in the multis and is one of the team's top high jumpers.
"Last year Andrew had a great indoor season. But outdoors he wanted to do spring football and he hurt his ankle and also got sick. So he was disappointed by the finish of his outdoor season last year but he's doing great this year. He's practicing well and I think he's definitely going to do well at Mountain Pacific and at the Pac-10 level. With him, if everything clicks, he might even be a guy who could at least provisionally qualify for NCAAs," Licari says.
All in all the jumpers, vaulters, and multis should be a fuller and more well-rounded group this season, as always with a number of Huskies expecting to vie for NCAA titles indoors and out.