Jan. 15, 2010
The 2010 track and field season goes off this coming Saturday, as Washington hosts the UW Indoor Preview, the first of five exceptional indoor meets that will draw thousands of competitors and produce hundreds of NCAA qualifiers. During the week GoHuskies will look at the prospects of the UW track squad as it competes both indoors and outdoors from now all the way until mid-June.
Aside from the women's distance crew, the faction of the Husky track team with the most returning All-Americans happens to be the throwers. Assistant coach Reedus Thurmond's group features four athletes that earned the coveted All-America honor last year, three of whom scored at the national meets. Pac-10 titles and NCAA podium finishes are now just a few of the goals for this invaluable unit.
Elisa Bryant got the All-America run started at last year's NCAA Indoor Championships, where she placed eighth in the weight throw as just a sophomore. At the NCAA Outdoor meet, Zack Midles followed suit in the hammer throw, earning the honor as the eighth-highest American, while javelin standouts Kyle Nielsen and Brooke Pighin both scored for the Dawgs with top-eight finishes.
"This is a pretty talented group," said Thurmond, now in his fifth season. "Everybody works hard and gets after it pretty good. It's definitely the most talent I've had in my time here."
Even now, only Midles is entering his senior season, but Coach Thurmond would surely do anything to extend the career of one of the principle leaders of the entire Washington program.
"Zack's a super-motivator," Thurmond says. "He'll get in your face if he doesn't like something that you're doing in the weight room or the track. He'll let it be known. So it will be tough to lose him, because there's not a lot of people like that. He and Falesha Ankton are the two biggest leaders on the entire team."
Of course Midles backs up any words with his work ethic and performances. One of the top moments of 2009 came at West Regionals, where Midles needed to improve on his final attempt in the hammer to move up into NCAA qualifying position, and he came through with the pressure on. He earned All-America honors despite barely missing the final, placing 13th.
Thurmond expects Midles to go out with a flourish. "It's his senior year, he's expecting big things as am I," Thurmond says. "We want to make sure to get into the top-eight this time and not just All-American status just because of some foreigners in front of him."
Coming off a breakthrough sophomore season, Langley, British Columia's Kyle Nielsen looks set to continue his ascension up the elite ranks of javelin throwers this spring. Nielsen was very consistent in 2009 after breaking through with a mark of 239-2 early in the season. He made it to nationals and then made it onto the podium, placing sixth to earn All-America honors. Nielsen then went on to capture the Canadian National Championship, and continues to impress his coach with his dedication.
"Kyle is a stud. He trains like a stud, and he lives his life like he's the best javelin thrower in the country. It's awesome to see that," Thurmond says. "He's strong, he's healthy, he looks really good in training right now. I'm trying not to jinx him, not making any predictions, but it should be a really good year barring anything crazy happening."
The Huskies may want to keep some javelin scouts stationed north of the border, as Brooke Pighin also had a huge All-American season for UW on the women's side. Hailing from Port Alberni, B.C., Pighin transferred to Washington from Fresno State after her freshman year, and all but matched Nielsen's impact as she took seventh at the NCAA Outdoor meet. With several seniors ahead of her graduating, Pighin knows she could hang some big points on the board this June.
The changes in Pighin's training have been marked, as Thurmond says, "Brooke is funny. She was a little bit of a slacker when she first got here. I had to ride her pretty hard last year to get her to train hard. Then we started competing and she started getting beat a little bit by people she shouldn't have, and a light switched in her head and she started busting it like she's supposed to.
"She's motivated now, and she's a completely different person than when she first came here. She's trained hard all winter. So she should be on the podium, top two or three if all goes well and she keeps training hard."
Bryant's season in the weight and hammer throws last year was literally second to none in Washington history. She set the school record in both events, qualified for NCAAs in both and became the first ever Husky woman to earn All-America honors in the weight throw, PRing at NCAA Indoors with a mark of 65-8 ¾. Despite a record-setting season, Bryant missed out on the hammer final at nationals and will look to rectify that this year. She's also progressing quickly in the discus. Currently Bryant is recovering from an injury that will likely have her redshirting the indoor season.
"Elisa, once we get her 100% healthy, which we hope to do in the next month or two, is going to be tough to beat in the discus and the hammer. Her discus training has been the best the best that I've seen it in the time that I've known her," Thurmond said, though, "The hammer is her pride and joy. We hope we can get her over the 200-foot mark at some of these meets and scoring big points. Ultimately we're working towards having her score in both events at nationals."
Another top returner--and another top Canadian at that--is sophomore Angus Taylor. During his freshman season, Taylor just missed scoring at both MPSFs and Pac-10s in the weight and hammer, and made it to the Regional meet in the hammer. Thurmond says the hammer will be the main focus, and that Taylor is still developing physically but should be capable of big things at Pac-10s this year.
The one area lacking from the recent throws success has been the shot put. The Huskies will look to Richard Anderson to turn that around in 2010. Anderson, from Wilson High in Tacoma, is in his third year on the squad but is just a sophomore and could come into his own this year, especially during the outdoor season, according to Thurmond.
"In the shot, Rich is the guy. He has a huge upside and had really good winter training. A lot of the changes we've made in the last year or so are starting to pay off. With the smaller ball outdoors he should be able to push the 60-foot mark," says Thurmond.
Fans can also look for the return of Cameron Elisara to the shot put ring this year, as the football standout has been back working out with the track team, after last competing in 2008. Thurmond says he looks like he hasn't missed a beat.
Another two veterans that should definitely contribute this year are senior Korede Oyetuga and junior Peter Follmer. Both competed at Pac-10s a year ago and Oyetuga has moved into the UW Top-10 in both the hammer and weight throw. Follmer will add depth to the discus and Thurmond sees him as still a work in progress with a lot of potential.
"Pete's making some good progress in winter training and we're going to get him out of the weight room and get him a little more flexible. He's working hard and it should be a good year for him," Thurmond says. "Korede, this is her senior year. We're looking for her to finally step up and at least score at the Pac-10 level. She was close last year, so that helped build a little confidence in her, and she knows what it takes for her to score at Pac-10s."
Notable newcomers start with a sophomore transfer from across the state, as Conner Larned joins the Huskies from the rival Cougars to throw the discus. Larned was fourth in the UW-WSU dual meet as a freshman last year and was a two-time Washington state 3A champion in the discus in high school.
Freshmen Armin Basic and Joe Zimmerman are both large on talent as well. Basic won the 3A Washington state discus title by more than 20 feet last year at Renton, and was second in the shot put, while Zimmerman took the 4A state title in the javelin as a senior at Lewis and Clark High in Spokane. On the women's side, freshmen Jordin Seekins and Ally Mueller both placed well at state in the javelin last year.