Jan. 22, 2011
In a wide variety of ways, Pat Licari's group of tracksters could produce a plethora of points at conference and national meets this year. Washington has a number of returning NCAA competitors that have the experience to contend for Pac-10 titles and All-America honors, and Licari welcomes a freshman class that he calls his best yet; a group that addresses a number of big needs for the Huskies, and could impact significantly starting this month and building for several years.
But before Husky fans look to the future, they had best stop and enjoy the present, as Scott Roth heads into the final season of a phenomenal Washington career. The 2010 NCAA Indoor Champion, Roth has earned All-America honors in five out of a possible six seasons, with two to go. Roth was undefeated in the pole vault indoors last year, raising his PR to18-9 ¼ to win the MPSF title and set the meet record.
In a recent interview with Track & Field News, former Olympian Jeff Hartwig was asked to analyze the next wave of American vault talent, and offered the following thoughts on Roth: "of the young up-and-coming guys, he's doing the most right of anybody." The soft-spoken senior from Granite Bay, Calif. is thinking big as usual.
"His goals are to go to Nationals, win at Indoors, try to win at Outdoors, and to go over 19-feet to get the school record," says Licari. "Hopefully if he does those kinds of things, he'll have a future as a professional and can try his hand at that. If he has a good year that should set him up to do that next year."
Another of Licari's vaunted vaulters is senior Ryan Vu, who has one season of indoor eligibility remaining. Vu upset Roth to win the 2010 Pac-10 Championship, then qualified for his first career NCAA Championship outdoors, tying for 11th. The Bellevue native with Canadian citizenship is also looking to continue vaulting after college, but wants to first reach his first NCAA Indoor meet.
"Ryan is doing great this year, and picking up where he left off last spring. If he can jump like he did at the end of last year he'll go to indoor nationals and hopefully go out on a good note," Licari says. "(Competing internationally) is also an aspiration for Ryan, as he's jumping for Canada, and there's only one other Canadian that can jump higher than him right now. He's really close to jumping the heights that he needs to represent Canada."
Washington also is hoping for big things from the talented Mr. Taiwo. One of the best returning decathletes in the country, Jeremy Taiwo (Renton, Wash.) was on pace to score at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last year before a crash in the hurdles knocked him out of the running on day two. His early season returns have created a buzz amongst the coaching staff, who all want great things for the energetic team leader.
"Jeremy's been a leader for our team, even as young as he still is. He's leading by example, and training really well," says Licari. For now, just making sure Taiwo stays healthy is the biggest key, says his coach. If he arrives at the track feeling good, "he'll be competitive for everything" Licari says. Taiwo could have the potential to score at a conference level in multiple open events aside from the decathlon, as well as running on the 4x4 relay. "He's got huge potential for our team."
The overall multis group looks to be at its strongest point in years. Senior Andrew Ferleman (Bellevue, Wash.) is healthy and training well, as evidenced by his 60-meter hurdles PR of 8.27 at the UW Indoor Preview. A high school teammate of Taiwo's, Ferleman has been up and down with injuries, but Licari feels he can certainly be competitive at Pac-10s this year.
Jumping right into the mix is freshman Kale Schmidt, a basketball star at Stanwood High who won the Washington State decathlon title in 2009 and was runner-up in 2010 with more than 6,100 points. Now he'll get the chance to focus solely on track for the first time.
"Kale's been a great training partner for Jeremy and Andrew and he's doing great, just awesome," says Licari. "I think he's got a lot of potential in the decathlon. His main events were the jumps in high school and the 400. He and Jeremy both are potential 4x400 legs for us."
The men's jumps figure to get a huge boost from two more talented freshmen: Kasen Covington and A.J. Maricich. Covington, from Boise, Idaho, was one of the nation's top prep triple jumpers last year, busting out a 52-foot jump as a senior which would nearly set the UW school record. He's also no slouch in the long jump, having gone 24-5 as a senior. Maricich, from Mead High in Spokane, is the Washington 4A high jump champ and has cleared the 7-foot mark as a prep, something that will always be competitive on the Pac-10 level, and something the Huskies have lacked since nine-time All-American Norris Frederick graduated.
"Kasen is capable of placing very high at the Pac-10s in both the long jump and triple jump, potentially making it to nationals as a freshman and maybe even being a factor at nationals," says Licari. "He's very good, he's working hard and looking great."
For Maricich, Licari says the numbers bear out that "If he just does what he did at high school he'll do well at Pac-10s every year, so if he can pick up another couple inches he has the potential to go to nationals. So A.J.'s doing great too."
The two freshmen join a young group of returning leapers that was already looking more dynamic after a learning year in 2010. Sophomore Julian Bardwell (Tacoma, Wash.) was just two spots out of the points at Pac-10s in the long jump last year after joining the team in the spring. He'll be looking to crack the 24-foot mark soon. Clayton Johnson out of Snohomish also made huge strides last year as a redshirt freshman in the triple jump, increasing his PR seemingly a foot at a time to nearly 49-feet, and he took 10th at Pac-10s as well.
"I'm very excited about Julian," says Licari. "He came in last year mid-way through the season, and he has a lot of potential with a full year of training under his belt. Clayton Johnson also had a good year last year. He'll be a factor in the triple-jump as well as the high jump; getting 6' 6" (indoors) last year was great. If he can go 2 or 3 inches higher he'll be a contributor."
"The rest of the group has a little ways to go, but they're a good solid group," Licari says in regards to the remaining returners in the jumps group.
Adding to the depth in the men's vault is Bryce Borer of Mercer Island, though the 16-foot jumper has been out of action for a while recovering from a foot injury stemming from a bad landing. Junior college transfer Robby Fegles is a former Oregon State prep champ and cleared 16-1 at the UW Indoor Preview unattached. He could be a contributor right away when healthy. Walk-ons Alex Neshyba (Vancouver, Wash.) and Aegir Olsen (Portland, Ore.) will likely redshirt, Licari says.
Switching over to the women's side, the triple jump should again be an event of great strength for the women. At last year's MPSF Championships, the Huskies got eight points in the triple jump out of freshman Shaniae Lakes (Richland, Wash.) and sophomore Lindsey Fleishman (Seattle, Wash.), then sophomore Taylor Nichols (Bakersfield, Calif.) scored in the triple at Pac-10s.
Lakes wound up with the school's freshman record, surpassing 41-feet outdoors and qualifying for the NCAA Prelims in Austin.
"We've got a big group of good female triple jumpers," Licari confirms. "Taylor Nichols could possibly be in her last year here. Last year she snuck in to score at Pac-10s. It's been a roller-coaster ride for her with injuries, but she's doing well right now, and will hopefully lead that group. Shaniae could have another really big year of improvement, and should go further. Alana Alexander redshirted last year as a freshman, but did well, and with Lindsey working hard we could end up with four girls over 40 feet, and that would be awesome."
Washington will be looking for high marks out of third-year high jumper Kelly McNamee (Spokane, Wash.), who was an NCAA Indoor Championships participant as a freshman in 2009. Injuries took a toll last season, and she competed just once outdoors. If she can return to her top level (clearing 5-11 ½ as a freshman), McNamee can certainly be a factor at Pac-10s and make a return trip to nationals, which would give a big boost to the women's team as a whole.
"Kelly is doing well right now. Last year was a tough season for her, being hurt. Hopefully we can get a redshirt out of it as she only competed once. Hopefully she'll be jumping by our second meet," says Licari. "I'm really excited for her.
Licari also singles out sophomore Caroline Soules as a PR candidate. Soules, from Shoreline, has a 5-foot, 6-inch best that she'll be looking to eclipse. "Caroline is poised to make a break through this year, jumping 5-8 or 5-9 and potentially competing at the Pac-10 level."
The women's vault brings back a veteran group, that has shown steady progression over the past two years and will be looking for a collective breakthrough. Junior Kelly Mudlo (Littleton, Colo.) took her PR from 11-8 up to 12-11 during the 2010 indoor season. Reno, Nevada's Logan Miller had a terrific rookie season, going nearly 12-10 indoors and over 12-6 outdoors. Getting both over the 13-foot barrier is the first goal.
"Last year Kelly and Logan went to Pac-10s and Logan placed as a freshman," says Licari. "Kelly's looking great as well. Those two come in with the best marks in the group. I'm hoping that they can take it to the next level. They're right on the verge of being Pac-10 factors and taking it one notch higher to compete at a national level."
Junior Taylor Fjeran (Mukilteo, Wash.) is another returner with frequent 12-foot clearances looking to move higher. Entering the pole vault fray this year are several freshmen, with Spokane's Tasha Clark and Ashley Schnapp of Oregon City among the Northwest's top talent. Georgia Reynolds also has a strong prep PR of 11-6.
"Ashley was probably the best high schooler to come out of Oregon and then Tasha was one of the best girls to come out of Washington last year so the two of those girls are real strong," Licari says. "They're right behind Logan and Kelly with a chance to compete at the conference meet."
In the multi-events, sophomore Sarah Schireman from Everett will look to build on a solid freshman season that saw her place ninth in the Pac-10 heptathlon, with the eighth-best score in school history. Her long jumping skills are also among the best on the women's team. Training with Schireman will be Ridgefield, Wash. native Shelby Williams. The freshman was third in the Washington State heptathlon in 2010. Licari also says freshman Greta Zietz, a 5-6 high jumper out of Fargo, North Dakota, will train for the multis.
"Sarah had a solid first year. She was just a freshman, and was slowed down a little by an injury in her foot towards the end of the year, and she ended up having surgery on it," says Licari. "She's going to redshirt the indoor season to give her time to recover from that. She can get right in the mix at Pac-10s. Last year she was right on the verge."
With a number of Husky jumpers on the verge, the next several months should pack plenty of excitement.