Jan. 9, 2013
Washington opens up the 2013 track season this Saturday, hosting the UW Indoor Preview at the Dempsey beginning at 8 a.m. The indoor season takes the Dawgs through early March, when they head outdoors and take the new outdoor track for a spin. Check in throughout the week to read up on what each event group has on tap in 2013.
SEATTLE - As the 2012 season culminated with the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships, a number of Pat Licari's athletes came through with huge breakthrough performances that put them on the podium at the conference meet or punched a ticket to the NCAA final site. Every one of those athletes are back in 2013, so if they can pick up where they left off, it should be a captivating season for the vaulting, jumping and a-little-bit-of-everything Huskies.
Taking a look at the multi-event crew first makes sense as a couple of the multitasking Dawgs will also be counted on to contribute in several of the jumping events as well.
To say the career of uber-talented Jeremy Taiwo has taken a few unplanned detours would be an understatement. But the 2011 Pac-12 Decathlon Champion and two-time All-American has battled back once again and if any athlete is due a few breaks and a shot at simply competing, it would be the senior Taiwo.
The end of his 2011 season was well-documented, as he won the first Pac-12 decathlon title by a Husky in 25 years, throwing the javelin with his non-dominant left hand because he had torn a tendon in his elbow. His season ended with a 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championships, his best yet, but he was left pondering what might have been. He then sat out the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery to his elbow, and surgery to his hips and pelvis to alleviate the osteitis pubis condition that had plagued him and limited his training.
Now with one full year remaining, Taiwo can again challenge to be one of the best athletes in the nation. His value goes far beyond a form chart, but Taiwo should help out on one of those as well, as he is a threat to score in open events such as the high jump, long jump, 110m hurdles, or 400-meters.
"The reappearance of Jeremy Taiwo is really huge for us, and he has had a great fall," says Licari. If the nagging hip injury is in the past, Licari says things could open up even more for Taiwo. "The osteitis pubis was really a major issue with his training throughout several years now, so to imagine he could do bigger and better things if we could eliminate that as a problem is awesome to think about. And he's doing javelin practice and there don't seem to be any issues there."
Licari says that the Jeremy Taiwo of the women's side this year will be Jaleecia Roland, the Federal Way product who has shown glimpses of big time talent. A sophomore indoors but just a redshirt freshman outdoors, Roland has coped with her own health hurdles same as Taiwo. She has dealt with vasovagal syncopes since high school, which are fainting or dizzy spells related to blood flow.
Jaleecia Roland 'could easily be a big help four our team in the heptathlon, high jump, triple jump, and maybe long jump as well. So she's a key part of our team.'
Properly diagnosing the condition and finding specialists to treat it has helped a great deal, says Licari. "The health issues that she's had so far seem to be getting better and better and she's handling them better. The doctors have said it's the kind of thing you tend to grow out of, and they're treating it as well." If Roland reaches her full potential, Licari says, "Man, she could easily be a big help for our team in the heptathlon, high jump, triple jump, and maybe long jump as well. So she's a key part of our team."
In the heptathlon, Roland will team with junior Shelby Williams, coming off a very solid sophomore season that saw her climb towards the 5,000-point mark, scoring 4,875 points to take 11th in the deep Pac-12 heptathlon field. "Shelby has Pac-12 experience, she improved significantly last year, and she wants to score at conference this year," says Licari.
Joining the group is freshman Ciana Baron from Oregon, who Licari expects to contribute down the road. Senior Sarah Schireman also scored over 4,800 points in the heptathlon last year, but she has shifted her focus this year to the long jump and 100m hurdles.
Taiwo won't be a one-man operation in the multis. Junior college transfer Nick Pfeiffer has a couple years of experience in the decathlon and brings a PR of 6,675, which not far from a mark that typically scores at Pac-12s. Pfeiffer brings the experience, says Licari, while freshman Josh Gordon has a lot of raw talent. A Washington state long jump champion at the 3A level, Gordon decided to tackle the full slate of the decathlon, and has impressed so far.
Nick is very fit with lots of experience with the multi-events. He's a very solid guy," says Licari. "Josh Gordon has got a lot of ability, just raw speed and jumping. He ran an amazing time in the 60 hurdles in the intrasquad for a guy who was running it for the very first time. So he's been a really nice surprise and they could both potentially be conference scorers their very first years."
Midway through his sophomore year, A.J. Maricich had certainly had a productive Husky career, but when he finally cleared the seven-foot barrier in his first 2012 outdoor meet, it seemed to spark the Spokane native, and he wound up with one of the best seasons ever for a Husky high jumper. Not expected to be among the favorites in a deep Pac-12 field, Maricich strung together a series of first attempt makes, and hit a new PR of 7-1 ½ to tie for second.
Following up on his Pac-12 breakthrough, Maricich matched that PR on a third attempt at West Prelims in Austin. Needing another PR or facing the end of his season, Maricich hit another perfect lift-off and flew over 7-2 ½, the No. 3 mark in school history. That got him to the NCAA finals in Iowa, and despite struggling on that day, the hard-working junior had the reward for his dedication.
"A.J. just had a tremendous end of the season last year getting to NC's," says Licari. "A little bit of nerves at nationals just being at that meet for the first time, but that's the good thing about getting there is he could get that out of the way. I'd love to see him get back to those kinds of meets and this time be contending for some points for the team. He's looking great. He works hard and he does everything that you ask."
Sophomore Chase Walker will also be in the mix in the high jump exclusively this year, after trying his hand at the multis his freshman year. Walker will be looking to earn a spot at the conference meets indoors and out.
Then it's back to Taiwo and Roland for high jump back-up. Or in Roland's case, she's expected to be the standard-bearer for the women in this event. "Jeremy should be able to push A.J. in the high jump," Licari says, "and Jaleecia, I think she can do big things, and we'll need her in the high jump."
Last season the Husky staff welcomed former NCAA long jump champion and NFL legend Eric Metcalf as a volunteer assistant, helping out Licari with the horizontal jumps group. Metcalf, a Seattle resident, had just a couple months on the job last year, but this season is taking more of a hands-on approach to the long and triple jumpers, making Licari's life in the Dempsey a little less hectic.
"It's been exciting having Eric Metcalf working with those guys," says Licari. "They've been practicing well from everything I've seen."
Two of the most consistent performers on the men's team last year were Kasen Covington, and both return in search of a breakthrough season. Bardwell, the Tacoma native now entering his senior season, was 13th at Pac-12s last year, and jumped over 23-feet at every meet.
Covington advanced to the NCAA West Prelims for the second year in a row, but he is also looking to produce points at the Pac-12 meet for the first time. He had one of the most clutch moments of the 2012 season, getting the win in the triple jump at the UW-WSU Dual on his final attempt in Pullman last year. Licari says Covington will be the main man in the triple jump, but that his long jump has been looking stronger as well.
"Julian and Kasen both obviously are capable of being big factors for us," Licari says. "I would love to see both of them score at conference."
On the women's side, with Jaleecia Roland will again be a factor here, and Chloe Stiggelbout is back and looking to keep improving. Adding to the depth on the women's side is freshman Savannah Burr, a multiple-time Washington state champ at the 1A level hailing from Orting.
The one setback for Licari's group heading into 2013 is the potential unavailability of Pac-12 runner-up Shaniae Lakes. The school record-holder in the triple jump, Lakes dropped jaws at the Pac-12 meet last year, smashing the school record on several different attempts, before settling on 43-3 ¼. But Lakes had hip surgery this fall, and Licari says she will miss the indoor season at minimum, and outdoors remains a question mark.
Eventually, Licari hopes that Lakes' recovery plays out like Taiwo's where the surgery is able to cure what had been a lingering issue, and better marks will follow down the road. "As well as she's done, she's been dealing with this nagging hip thing for a while, so there could be a lot more there were she not to have that problem. So it's a bummer, but at the same time if it's going to take care of this ongoing issue it will be certainly be worth it."
Two of the top returning pole vaulters in the NCAA will be soaring the skies for the Huskies this spring, but what else is new at Washington? Coach Licari's vaulters have produced six NCAA titles over the past 10 years, and Logan Miller and J.J. Juilfs would be on anyone's list of national contenders in 2013.
It wasn't so long ago that Miller was hovering just above the 13-foot mark, a very solid height that already had her on the Husky top-10 lists, but with the ever-improving standards in the women's pole vault, it was now the 14-foot barrier that marked the real elite athletes. But the Reno, Nevada native made "the leap" so to speak in rapid fashion during the 2012 outdoor season. She won the Pepsi Team Invitational in Eugene with an even 14-foot clearance, a personal best by about half a foot, to become just the second Husky to clear that bar.
From that point on Miller was as reliable as the pole vault gets. She went to the Pac-12 Championships and went jump for jump against Stanford senior Katerina Stefanidi, the eventual NCAA Champion, eventually settling for second-place but with a new school record as no small consolation. Miller flew over 14-feet, 4.5-inches that day, breaking Kate Soma's eight-year-old mark. She followed that up by advancing through NCAA prelims without a single miss, getting another crack at nationals where she was 11th the year before.
"Logan's big strength is her competitive nature, and how she does in those big meet situations," says Licari. Indeed, Miller went to Des Moines for the NCAA finals last year and again was unflappable, clearing bar after bar up to 14-3 ¼, good for a fourth-place finish and First Team All-America honors. That helped the UW women take eighth at NCAA Outdoors, the best finish in team history.
Miller has finished her last two seasons with her best performances, and progressing throughout the season is what every coach wants to see. All Licari could ask now is that the senior starts 2013 close to where she left off in 2012. One thing missing from her résumé is a trip to NCAA Indoors, as she vaulted a full foot higher outdoors last year than she did in the Dempsey.
Logan's big strength is her competitive nature, and how she does in those big meet situations.
"Based on how she did the last few outdoor meets, she should absolutely be one of the girls at NCAA Indoors, but in the women's pole vault it's not going to get handed to those girls," Licari says. "It seems like every year it gets harder, and you have to jump 14-something. She's been one who builds all the way to the end of the season, so she'll have to come out stronger than she ever has, and hopefully she can keep building from there."
Much was expected of J.J. Juilfs heading into his freshman season, after he captured the U.S. Junior Championship the previous summer. Juilfs delivered in every way, becoming Licari's first ever freshman Pac-12 Champion when he jumped a career-best 17-10 ¼ in front of his hometown friends and family at Hayward Field in Eugene. Juilfs made the NCAA finals both indoors and out, placing 13th at the outdoor meet to cap an excellent first year.
"J.J. just did awesome last year, and it's great having him back," says Licari. "Winning Pac-12s in front of his home crowd was great, but the conference has some great guys coming back and so the goal for J.J. is just to keep progressing and making those NCAA meets and now trying to score."
Over the past several years, it has become almost commonplace for one of Licari's vaulters to have a seemingly out-of-nowhere breakthrough at a championship-level meet. But even Licari, who believes in his athletes more than they might believe in themselves, admits to some surprise at the huge breakthrough Georgia Reynolds made last spring.
"She was just on fire for about three weeks in a row," says Licari of Reynolds, who raised her PR by a foot and a half in less than a month at the end of the season. She cleared 13-feet for the first time at Pac-12s, just making the cut for NCAA Prelims, where she went 13-8 ¼ to advance to the NCAA finals and earn All-America honorable mention.
"That surprised the heck out of me," Licari confesses. "Because she was out of it early in the year, and just got a little better and a little better and then came on like crazy. I knew she was capable of more, and I had to plead her case to take her to Pac-12s, because I knew she could do better, but I didn't necessarily know she would do that well. It was awesome to watch."
Now, like Miller, a goal for Reynolds is to try and pick up right where she left off, and give herself some chances to jump at bars that would get her to NCAA Indoors for the first time.
The list of NCAA hopefuls does not stop with that trio, as several newcomers will be looking for the types of rookie seasons that Juilfs and Reynolds enjoyed last year. The freshman duo of Chris Williams and Jax Thoirs on the men's side and redshirt freshman Kristina Owsinski on the women's side have Licari anxiously awaiting the first meet of the year.
Williams, from Philadelphia, and Thoirs, who hails from Glasgow, Scotland, represent opposite ends of the vaulting spectrum. Williams, who is also expected to help right away in the short hurdles, brings tremendous speed to the vault runway. Thoirs, on the other hand, has size and strength, standing 6-foot-5, similar in stature to Husky Olympian Brad Walker. Williams has a 16-6 personal-best coming in while Thoirs has cleared 17-feet already as one of the top juniors in the United Kingdom.
"Chris and Jax, I think both of those guys, the way they trained this fall, they're each capable of jumping really well," says Licari. The coach thinks they could even be right there with Juilfs. "Even now going into our meet, I can't tell you who's going to jump higher. If I can get Jax and Chris going with the technique that J.J. has, they will really take off."
Licari saw a lot of potential in Owsinski a year ago, but the Ridgefield, Wash. native redshirted her first year at UW recovering from foot surgery. Now healthy, Licari says he is very impressed about how her fall has progressed. "To see Kristina jump well at the intrasquad, I think she could be right in there pushing Georgia and Logan."
Also a potential factor is sophomore Klarissa Wren and James Van Wyck are back but banged up and need to get healthy. The Huskies also welcome a pair of true freshmen on the women's side, Jessica Goodkin and Eva Perry. "Both are about in the same spot," says Licari, "where we're going to work and develop them for the future, similar to someone like Georgia her first year."