Jan. 11, 2012
The 2012 track and field season begins in a big way on January 14, as Washington hosts the UW Indoor Preview in the Dempsey Indoor. From there the Dawgs will compete through the NCAA Indoor Championships in March and then quickly switch to the outdoor season, continuing on until June. GoHuskies.com will take a look at what each unit has in store for the season ahead.
SEATTLE - Northwest native T.J. Crater takes over the Husky throws program this season, and inherits a group with some big-time individual talent, while he will get to work to increase the overall depth. Crater spent the past three seasons as the throws coach at Penn State, where his athletes combined for eleven All-America honors and five Big Ten Conference titles.
A native of East Wenatchee, Washington and an Idaho alum, Crater began his coaching career at Central Washington. At Penn State, he had two different men's shot putters place third at the NCAA Championships, and a women's javelin thrower also earn a third-place NCAA finish.
With just a few weeks time in Seattle, Crater, who describes himself as having a "blue-collar work ethic", will have to jump right in with his group. The season arrives this weekend so the evaluation period has been short and sweet and "I didn't have all fall to get to know them and to learn the ins and outs and how they throw and their personalities," says Crater. "It's trial by fire because and things are going to go into fast-forward pretty quick."
One of the biggest challenges in any coaching change is dealing with success. That is, the athletes that have already achieved at a high level and may not need or desire a change. Washington has three throwers who have scored at an NCAA Championship meet in their careers in Elisa Bryant, Brooke Pighin, and Joe Zimmerman, along with NCAA West Prelim competitors such as Angus Taylor, Amanda Peterson, and Conner Larned, who have all tasted success but are looking to reach the next level. Says their new coach, "They've done some pretty cool things to get where they are."
Starting from scratch with that group is not the plan, and dialogue is key. "Obviously there's a bit of getting to know them, on my part," says Crater. "They've been very receptive. They're also very aware that this is, for them, maybe not the most ideal situation but they've been great as far as communicating what they feel are their strengths and their goals. And I've done the same with them.
"Once we started talking about how we want to get there and getting on the same page, they've been great. It's been a process, just making sure that we're on track and they're feeling their voice is being heard."
The newcomers may have an easier transition, not knowing a difference aside from high school. "They're coming in with that clean state," acknowledges Crater. "This is their first year of college and, regardless of who their coach is, it's going to be a learning process. So with me coming in, it's just getting in with them early and keeping things organized and keeping them focused on things they need to accomplish."
The women's group is small with just eight throwers, four of them tailored to the javelin, which just makes senior captain Elisa Bryant as valuable as she's ever been. The Inglemoor grad was an All-American in the weight throw in 2009 and NCAA Outdoor qualifier in the hammer as well, setting the school record in both events. But a back injury cost her the 2010 season and despite setting a new discus PR in 2011, she is looking to get back to the NCAA level this year.
"I sure hope it is her best year yet and I think it will be," says Crater. "Elisa is tremendously talented in the discus and the hammer. She's healthy right now and that's our goal, to keep her healthy, and get her a lot of repetitions so she can keep her consistency and put herself in a position to get those big throws more often." Though Bryant's All-America honor came in the weight, that's the event that stresses her back the most, and Crater says her back will dictate what she can do indoors. But oudoors, "with the hammer and discus, I think that's where we're going to see some cool stuff."
The javelin corps is the deepest for both the men and women. The women have school record-holder Amanda Peterson back for her senior season and second year as a Husky, and 2009 All-American Brooke Pighin returns from a redshirt year spent rehabbing an elbow injury.
The two understandably have big goals for their last college seasons.
"The minimum expectation for Brooke and me is that she's a medalist at the Pac-12s and she's making the NCAA Finals and putting herself in a position to be an All-American at whatever distance that takes. But she's ready to compete. She's hungry and she's wanting to do it," says Crater. "She's working very hard, putting in a lot of training sessions."
Peterson came out of seemingly nowhere to break the school record with a throw of 174-2 which ranked in the top-five of the NCAA all year. She threw well at her first Pac-10 meet, finishing fourth overall, but came up a few spots short of a trip to nationals.
A shoulder injury has pushed some of Peterson's training back a bit, but should not carry into the season, says Crater. Keeping the Gig Harbor native patient is tough as "Amanda is just a tremendous competitor and wants it all right now. She's just trying to push and push and get herself in the shape she needs to be in to throw far. She's got very lofty goals this year. She wants to be consistent and not just have that one throw. She wants to be somebody that, at every meet, she'll be able to bring it at a certain level and set herself up to, again, be a medalist at the Pac-12s and make that NCAA Final."
Juniors Jordin Seekins and Ally Mueller both have conference meet experience as well in the javelin, and their PRs are just three feet apart. Seekins made the Pac-10 final last year, finishing ninth, while Mueller was 13th, and Seekins qualified for NCAA West Prelims for the first time.
"Both Jordin and Ally have the ability to be up in the 150s this year, and if they throw in the 150s, that's potentially going to get us points at conference and make the first round of the NCAAs," Crater says. "They're working hard, working on some technical things every week. It wouldn't surprise me if they are in the 150s this year and taking care of business."
Junior Erica Huse was a Pac-10 competitor in the discus last year and scored in the discus and hammer at the UW-WSU dual meet. "Erica started right off the bat with a six-foot personal best in the weight at our intrasquad meet. If she adds a little bit onto that, she's somebody that could score some points at MPSF with that. In the hammer, like everybody else she's trying to make some technical improvements, she's working in the weight room, and I'm excited to see what she can do."
New additions this spring are Stephanie Beck from Surrey, British Columbia, and Jesse Havens from Chehalis. Beck also had a weight throw PR at the intrasquad meet and "she's got some really good speed, and has some potential in the hammer," says Crater. "If she meets her goals, year by year, she'll be a contributor for us at the conference level and start making that NCAA prelim. We need to work to get a little bit stronger and just continue to be able to bring a good throw every time."
Havens is a former crew athlete who has impressed with her work ethic. "Jesse is just the hard-nosed, blue-collar kid. She's in practice every day doing everything I ask her to do the best that she can. She's starting to get the feel for the hammer. She's working hard and always asking for ways she can improve. Every day she does something that makes me think she's continuing to improve."
Turning to the men, they are a small but powerful group with good experience at each event save for the shot. The lone senior in the mix is Angus Taylor, who will captain the group. The B.C. native ranks seventh in school history in the hammer and has been agonizingly close to make the NCAA Outdoor meet the past two years.
Taylor has been incredibly consistent in the hammer, so he and Crater will see what can be done to net some more distance and take one more step. "He's got a lot left in the tank," assures Crater. "Angus has a great training background from his coaches in Canada and he's a very dedicated technician. But he's still very open to wanting to improve on things. He's getting a little bit stronger and, with his mentality and his technical abilities, I think he still has the ability to have a breakout year and throw in the mid 60-meter range."
Much like on the women's side, the javelin has been the strength of the men's group the past few years, though the Dawgs will have to move on without three-time All-American and school record-holder Kyle Nielsen, who could make a run at the Olympics for Team Canada this year. Still, UW returns Joe Zimmerman, who took fourth at the 2010 NCAA Championships and ranks third in school history. Zimmerman had a solid sophomore season, returning to the NCAA Outdoor meet, but a shoulder injury was troublesome for most of the spring.
Things are better on the health front so far for Zimmerman. "He's doing pretty well health-wise, and feeling pretty confident," says Crater. "He's done a little bit of throwing already and the numbers are at or ahead of where he thought he'd be. The big thing for Joe right now is we're trying to get him to be a little more athletic, his flexibility, and his speed, while trying to identify one or two things in his throw that could really help. He's working his rear end off and I think he's starting to see some payoff already."
After all the freshman year success, Crater thinks the reality of the 2011 season will be beneficial. "Honestly, I think the struggles of last year are going to pay dividends, mentally, this year. I think he had an amazing freshman year and last year, he struggled a little bit but still did really well, but not where he wanted to be. I think those frustrations are going to fuel the fire."
The Dawgs went two-three-four in the javelin at Pac-10s last year, with Nielsen second, Zimmerman third, and Jimmy Brookman a surprise fourth-place finisher. But the Redmond High grad unfortunately suffered some elbow damage shortly after that meet and he was unable to compete at West Prelims. Brookman is expected to redshirt the 2012 season in its entirety to come back strong next year. Says Crater, "He's there every day at practice, he's right there with the guys, he's being a great teammate and I look forward to going through this rehab progression with him and getting him back in the group next year. He's going to be very valuable to us."
Jumping right into the mix in the javelin are two of the nation's top recruits, Curtis Clauson and Quinn Hale. Both local products, Clauson hails from Edmonds and Hale from Tacoma, they each ranked in the top-12 nationally in the javelin last year. Crater does not mince words with how excited he is for their debuts.
"They are just awesome," he says. "I enjoy working with Curtis and Quinn everyday. They're fun, they're just young and hungry, and they've got an amazing amount of talent for the javelin. Having someone like Joe around is great and that's something they want to strive to be, they want to go far. They want to put up the points in the conference championship, they want to make the NCAA meet, while realizing they're freshmen and they have to pay their dues. So, they've been a blast."
The top discus thrower for the Dawgs last year was Conner Larned, who also picked up points indoors at the MPSF in the weight throw. The Enumclaw native also was 10th in the hammer at the Pac-10 meet, and had some big time discus throws that fell just outside the zone. He made it to West Prelims, placing 31st, capping a very strong season while still hinting at a lot more potential.
"Conner is a very, very talented guy and especially in the discus, I think he has a lot of room to grow," says Crater. "I think he has some physical gifts and some technical stuff he can improve upon. I've got some high hopes for Conner. I hope he can be that guy that will step up for us when the pressure's on at the dual meet and in conference. He'll be a guy that I would assume would make the first round and if he does well he's got a shot to make NCAAs outdoors. In the hammer, he's been right at 180 pretty consistently. With him, I'm so new to working with these guys that I haven't really set a limit on what I think he can throw. When we start to clean some things up, I think he could be a big surprise to a lot of people outside the program."
While Crater has had some of his biggest successes coaching the shot put, the coach will be taking applications for that role this season, as UW does not have a returner in that area. One potential exciting addition could be Danny Shelton, the physical freshman defensive lineman on the Husky football squad. The Washington State 4A champ last year in the shot put, Shelton's possible addition would be a nice jumpstart to the rebuilding process. Says Crater, "He's got that `it' factor that everyone's looking for and that's exciting."