Nov. 5, 2010
With a third-place tie with second-ranked Oregon at the Pac-10 Championships last weekend in Seattle, the Husky women's cross country team showed that it is back on an upward trajectory with NCAA Regionals and the NCAA Championships coming up quickly. Redshirt freshman Justine Johnson's season has been similar to the team as a whole; a slow start, but steady progress. Johnson, a Victoria, B.C. native, was ill at the start of the year and wasn't seeing her training pay off on race day. That all changed at the Pac-10 meet, as Johnson had her best day as a Husky, finishing 15th overall and third on the squad as UW just missed out on a third conference title in the closest race in Pac-10 history. UW's top five from Saturday have all had challenges to overcome this season, but all look to be pointed full speed ahead now. A one week jump in the polls from 20th to 11th this week is evidence of that. Johnson talked to GoHuskies.com this week about the Pac-10 meet raising her expectation level, what she took away from a strong freshman track season, and the team's new rally cry.
GoHuskies.com: Heading into the Pac-10 race, what was your expectation level for yourself and what was the race plan for you?
Justine Johnson: I was going in with pretty high expectations. I know I hadn't been racing that well going in, but I had been on antibiotics four times, and I was just really sick. Training was going well but I just wasn't able to put it together in a race. I knew I had to be up there this time if we were going to have a shot at winning. I just went out there and put everything I had into it, and obviously it turned out well.
GH: So you were going in really expecting a lot?
JJ: I really wanted to be in the top-five, because I really wanted to help the team and score points for the team. That was my goal, and I just thought if I stayed up there, looked at my teammates, and tried to stay with them I thought it would go well.
GH: You had to be pretty happy then with the results.
JJ: Yeah I was really excited. I was aiming to be top-25, and I was so happy with 15th.
GH: Did you have any family make it down from B.C. for the race?
JJ: My parents both came and my aunt and uncle both came to the race, so it was a really nice evening too. We went out to dinner and toured campus, it was really fun.
GH: Was Saturday one of the best days then of your racing career so far?
JJ: Definitely, it was unreal. The only thing I could compare it to was Pac-10s last year in the 1,500.
GH: Yeah it seems Pac-10s have been good to you so far!
JJ: (laughs) Yeah, Pac-10s have been good.
GH: Now you were coming off a pretty strong race at Pre-Nationals in the open race. Did that give you some confidence heading into Pac-10s?
JJ: I ran okay there but I knew I could take a lot away from it. It was a learning experience, just being in a race that big.
GH: Do you think your expectations will change at all moving forward now?
JJ: Definitely raises my expectations. I think it gives me confidence, but I don't want to change anything. I'm going to race the same way and I think all the expectations are for the team, not just individually.
GH: What was the mood like on the team after the race? Obviously you guys ran really well, and had your best race of the year, but there had to be a little disappointment knowing you were so close to getting the win.
JJ: I think we were all really excited but I think we're definitely not going to settle for third. We know that we can do a lot better. I think this is just all about momentum, and I think we're going to keep building from race to race. So far we've done a little bit better every race.
GH: What was it like having Christine Babcock back on the starting line with you guys?
JJ: It was awesome, that was the first time I've ever been in a race with her. It was just amazing, she's just so selfless, giving up her redshirt for us to do well. I just think that gave me some extra drive to do well.
GH: Looking back on your freshman track season, you really came on strong towards the end, made the Pac-10 finals and made Regionals. How did you view the season?
JJ: I think track season I just didn't go in with a whole lot of confidence, I would say. My races were just okay, I would get a little bit better, a little bit better, and then I would say my breakout race was Pac-10s. I think just training with Katie (Follett) and Kailey (Campbell) all last track season just gave me more confidence to run with the team, so I think that definitely helped my cross country season a lot.
GH: Your summer of training was also probably a step up from the year before, when you were dealing with mono.
JJ: Yeah, having mono all last summer was just awful for training. I came back really out of shape and just really out of it. This year I actually did track all the way through July, so I only took a little time off and then I started training again, until I got sick again (laughs). But yeah overall it was a lot better, I came in a lot fitter, and I came in knowing what I had to do to make the traveling team for Pac-10s and Nationals.
GH: Are you looking forward to starting off strong on the track this year?
JJ: Yeah I'm really excited. I'd like to make Nationals for indoors, that's my main goal. I'm super excited for that to start too.
GH: Have you settled on a major yet or is that still in the works?
JJ: I'm actually planning on double majoring in English and History. So I just sat down with the advisor and just talked about that two days ago. I'd like to go to law school and so I figured those would be good to help get in.
GH: Double majoring, that sounds like a tough workload with all your training. How do you squeeze everything in?
JJ: Just planning and not leaving things until the last minute. It's actually not that bad, on the road you still get a lot of work done on planes and buses. It just takes organization and knowing what you really want. Obviously I want to do the best I can in both running and school so that's just how it has to be.
GH: Do you have much time to just unwind?
JJ: I don't know, I don't have many other hobbies. I pretty much just watch TV when I'm not studying. House and Entourage are my favorite shows right now. But just hanging out with my roommates, I live with Grace (Green) and Lindsay (Flanagan) and Laura (Schmitt). We're all really close and really supportive of each other. Our team is like a family.
GH: On your bio you said Washington was really the only place you wanted to go. What made it seem like the right choice for you?
JJ: Well I just really loved the team aspect, just knowing that everyone was really supportive of each other. My high school team was like that. I saw Anita Campbell go here and she was one of my inspirations for going to UW, and she did really, really well obviously. It just seemed like a really good fit for me and I knew I wanted to come here.
GH: When did you first get into running?
JJ: I was seven or eight. I've been running most of my life, I was a track baby.
GH: What kinds of leagues or teams are there for kids that young?
JJ: In Canada it's a different system, there's clubs. I had a running club when I think I was eight. There are little 1K cross country races. After that then track season starts and you can do all the races; I did everything from the 100 to the 800, and all the hurdle events. And I don't know why but I did throws (laughs), I just did every event possible.
GH: Did you play many other sports growing up?
JJ: Yes, I was a competitive soccer player, and basketball; also did volleyball and then I was also on a triathlon team, and a swim team. I did a whole bunch of stuff until 10th grade, and then I just settled into running because it was my favorite sport.
GH: Looking ahead now to Regionals, in the past couple years it's been just a formality but this year there is probably more on the line for you guys. What are your thoughts on that race?
JJ: I think there is a little more pressure, but we all are going in there just knowing that the expectation is that we're going to advance through Regionals and make it back to Nationals. This is what we want to do. Just knowing when we're all on the start line, that everyone knows that they are going to do everything they possibly can for the team. Like I can look to my left and see Mel Lawrence, obviously one of the toughest girls out there, she's going to do everything she can, and then you just know you're going to do everything you can. We've been saying that our hands are all on the burner, and we're not taking them off.
GH: An outsider might look at this team, with the pieces that have been added, and say that you guys have as much room to improve in the next few weeks as any team in the country. Is that what the team is hoping for?
JJ: I think all of us know that we're going to keep improving, we're going to get a little better each race. We're going to try and beat people to the line. I feel like the way our season has been gong, we're progressing, and that's the way it's supposed to be. Our best race has to be at the end.