June 9, 2010
Five Husky track and field athletes have taken their UW careers as far as they can go, reaching the NCAA Championships in their final seasons. Falesha Ankton, Anita Campbell, Katie Follett, Zack Midles, and Ryan Vu have put countless hours of hard work in over the past four and in some cases five years to be at this level, and all five will relish the opportunity to compete for Washington one more time against the nation's best. NCAAs begin Wednesday with Campbell first up among the seniors, running the 10,000-meter final at Oregon's Hayward Field. GoHuskies.com talked with all of the seniors, and will start off looking at the three senior women with the two senior men to follow below.
For Ankton, Campbell, and Follett, the accomplishment of reaching NCAAs and the pressure of the meet is made all the more poignant with the prospect of their last race as Huskies. Yet all three athletes are happy to be able to finish their careers at nationals, and will do so at one of the most prominent venues in the track world, Hayward Field.
"It's definitely a lot better to be able to finish at nationals," said Ankton, a Benicia, California native. "It's at Eugene, in the Northwest, so my family will come up and watch. It will be nice to end in front of my family. I'm glad I made it on for sure."
Campbell, an All-American last year in the 10k when she placed third, has made outdoor nationals every year of her career, going from the 5k her first two years up to the 10k in the last two. "It's really important," she said on the achievement. "That's always my primary goal. Half the battle is just getting there and anything can really happen. It's important and it means a lot, especially after last week (in Austin) where people fell that could have made it. It shows how important it is to just get through the rounds and get there."
Follett is one of UW's most decorated runners in history, yet still admits she's, "feeling every feeling imaginable. I'm excited, first of all, for the race. I'm sad that my career as a Husky is over. I'm grateful for the memories I've been able to share with my teammates. I feel blessed that I got to the end of my season healthy and that I'm going to be able to race. I'm looking forward to Eugene especially because it's Hayward Field. We've raced there a lot. They have great fans and a great stadium. I couldn't imagine having my last race as a Husky anywhere else."
Ankton qualified with a career-best 13.37 seconds time in the 100m hurdles in Austin, earning the final slot after an anxious time watching the scoreboard to see if she would be able to keep her season alive. Follett is back in the 1,500m this year where she qualified in 2008, before she moved up to the 5k last season. Campbell has battled nagging injuries throughout her senior season but still found a way back into another NCAA final in the 10k.
Follett,who came to Seattle from Fort Collins, Colorado, still owns the fastest time by a collegian this season, having run 4:10.66 back in April, and will be counted among the leading contenders for a title.
"I really want to give myself a shot to win down the last 100 meters," said Follett. "When I step off the track, I want to know that I left everything there. So many times I've worked out here thinking about this race on Saturday. I've left in on the track every time I've worked out this year. I want to step off the track knowing that I gave it 150 percent."
Campbell and Ankton both hope to leave it all on the track as well, and have specific goals in mind for their last Husky meet.
"I really want another PR," said Ankton. "It's going to be very fast, very quick. The goal is definitely to get a PR, to go out there and run fast to win my heat; beat some people to make it to the next round. If that doesn't happen, a PR would be great and hopefully I can get the B standard for USA Outdoors and be able to run at Drake Stadium at the end of June."
Said Campbell, a Vancouver, B.C. product, "I just want to compete. Things don't always go perfect. This year we've had a few injuries and so you have to just be in the right mind frame going in and want to compete and do whatever you can once the gun goes off. Anything can happen but you've just got to be determined to work hard. We'll see what happens. I got third last year. I don't know how it will play out this year but I'll just do my best."
The seniors have each left their own significant marks on the Husky track and field program over their career, as shown by their multiple NCAA championship appearances. Their time at Washington is not only defined by their performances on the field, but their time spent away from competition with friends and in the classroom.
"I've really tried to soak up the whole college experience, meet as many people and be a part of as many groups and clubs as I can," said Ankton. "These last five years have been a roller coaster. I'm going to miss the people and the atmosphere of going to games, going to practice."
"I'm going to remember all the great times, the laughs and jokes that I've shared with teammates," said Follett. "Of course I'll remember that feeling of euphoria after stepping off the track or cross country course after doing so well. Most of all, it's about the relationships that you've formed with people over the four years that you are here and you come away with really close friends."
The three all represent student-athletes well. Ankton is a double major in Political Science and Law, Society and Justice who is an avid supporter of other Husky teams that was recently voted most spirited. She is currently interning in a government office downtown and hopes to go to graduate school to study urban planning and eventually work in community development.
Campbell also pushed herself in the classroom as a double major in Community and Environmental Planning, as well as French. Follett studied public health for undergraduate, and hopes to attend graduate to study Physical Therapy. They will eventually dive into the professional world, but first they hope to continue chasing their passion for running after college.
"Hopefully I'll be able to keep running for a few more years and keep my running career going," said Follett. "Eventually I want to go to graduate school, but at this point I want to continue pursuing the passion of running as far as it will take me."
Said Ankton, "I don't exactly have a set plan yet. I'll train this summer and hope to go to USA Outdoors. I'm going to come back in the fall and hopefully be a volunteer assistant coach here."
Before any plans come into play, the seniors have a task at hand. This weekend is the end of their Husky careers and they have the chance to end it at the highest level of competition for a college track athletes.
"It's a lot different because it's the last one," said Campbell. "Coming into nationals, it's finally a chance to just run as hard as you can and just get a good result."
"This year, all I've been thinking about is making it to the end," said Ankton. "It's something that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Due to his family name, Zack Midles came to Washington with high expectations. His father Dwight Midles was an All-American hammer thrower at Washington State. His brother Adam Midles was an All-American in the hammer for USC. Last year, Zack became an All-American for Washington. Family has always been a huge part of Zack's life, and over the past five years at UW that family has broadened in all sorts of directions.
"Being a Husky has meant everything," said Midles. "I wouldn't change anything. Great school, great coaching, and great teammates. I found a great church and made a lot of relationships that I will be able to keep forever. And I'll always be proud to be a Husky."
Every track athlete would love to be a regular at the NCAA Championships throughout their career, but although senior Ryan Vu has had to wait four years for his first appearance, the payoff is that much bigger now after the long build-up.
"It does feel great," says Vu. "It's been a great four years, a lot of hard work put in, time and energy thinking if I was good enough to compete in the Pac-10 and D-I. Coming out of high school I knew I wanted to be D-I because those are the best of the best. And now I've made it to the national meet and get to compete with the best of the best."
A Bellevue, Wash. native who also has Canadian citizenship, Vu's success this season has brought a future in the sport into greater focus. Competing for Team Canada internationally is now a real possibility, but Vu is striving to be an All-American this week before being All-Canadian.
"I'm just excited to compete and hope I can get a good jump, maybe make All-American which would be phenomenal and is definitely my goal. At the last couple meets I feel have had a couple good attempts at 18, but we'll see what it all comes down to this last meet. I am going to have fun with it and hopefully go out as a senior with a bang," says Vu.
Midles, an Olympia native, has been making his supporters proud throughout his career and looks to still be improving up until his final collegiate meet this week in Eugene. At the NCAA West Prelims in Austin, Midles broke his year-old PR with a throw of 212-feet, 7-inches. That placed him fifth in the West and clinched a second trip to nationals to wrap up his time as a Husky.
While he took care of All-America honors last season, his familial predecessors still have one edge that Midles hopes to erase this week. Both his father and brother scored at NCAAs, which requires a top-eight finish. Midles was 13th last season and wants to earn his full allotment of six throws rather than the three from 2009.
Vu has been on a roll and momentum and confidence can carry you a long ways in the vault. At the Pac-10 Championships, he upset teammate Scott Roth to win the title, completing a career arc that saw him go from no-heighting as a freshman, to 17th as a sophomore, eighth as a junior, and champion as a senior at the conference meet. He and Roth then both easily advanced through the Austin qualifying rounds, clearing a combined six bars with just one miss.
Currently enrolled in a Master's program in Digital Media, Midles got his Bachelor's in Communications. Recently, Midles was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic First Team for the first time in his career.
"I have a lot more school work to do in terms of papers, and I need to make sure the work is quality not just quantity," says Midles. "After that I have a Target executive internship and I'm looking forward to doing that this summer and then hopefully get into management with Target."
But before all that there's the one last meet where Midles will target a spot in the finals.
"I'm very excited," said Midles on ending his career at NCAAs. "I'm looking forward to going down with my fellow teammates and making the best out of the last meet of my career, and trying to impress myself as well as my family and friends."
Although this will be his final outdoor meet as a Husky, Vu is the only senior on the trip with another year of indoor eligibility remaining. So this may not be the final jumps for Vu in a Husky jersey, which could take some pressure off.
"I get to come back next year and not worry about having to grow up yet and deal with the next step of my life. But to be honest this does close a big chapter of my life," says Vu, as there is much less travel for UW indoors.
"It's been such a great experience. I'll really remember the days we spent training here at Dempsey," Vu says. "I'm in here all the time and I think back these past couple weeks every time I come in here, now it is the end of my time here, I keep getting flashbacks of all the workouts we've done and all the great people we've met. I don't have anything I regret because I have tried my hardest and have tried to put as much time and energy into this as possible. I never want to look back at my career and think I could have worked harder. It's been a great four years and there has been a lot of frustration but it is definitely cool to end it on such a high note."