May 7, 2009
By Honsen Lin
The UW Daily
Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish oneself from a national title-winning team full of young stars-in-the-making.
But all redshirt freshman Mel Lawrence needs to do is bring up the time she won the junior national championship in the women's steeplechase during her junior year of high school.
Not that she does that.
Lawrence ran a time of 10:15 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and set a new meet record with her race in the 2006 junior national championship.
"Steeplechase was a little bit more low-key, especially in high school," she said.
However, Lawrence was unable to make an immediate impact in college after being dealt a long-healing stress fracture her freshman year, which led to a redshirt. Luckily for the Huskies, she has made a smooth recovery.
"Just having her back in the mix this fall is a huge reason why our team ran well," women's distance coach Kelly Strong said of the cross country team's national-title run. "Mel was the emotional leader ... [her teammates] respect her a great deal."
With her accolades from high school, it isn't hard to see why Lawrence's coaches figured she would easily break records on her way to scoring a regional qualifier in the women's steeplechase during the UW-WSU dual meet.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Lawrence said after the meet. "Coach [Greg Metcalf] and I talked about it, and he had expectations. He told me what to do, and I just ran out there and ran."
Metcalf, UW's head track coach, was proud of Lawrence's effort in the WSU dual meet. "She smashed the school record," Metcalf said. "For her to run 10:06 in her steeple debut -- the first one she's run in two years -- was awesome."
Lawrence's time of 10:07.52 not only crushed the old UW record of 10:33.28, but also easily surpassed the regional qualifying mark of 10:50.25.
"Her potential in the event is limitless," Strong said of Lawrence, without hedging any predictions for her to win the college steeplechase title. "However, there is Jenny Barringer who's from Colorado, who's run [9:22.26]. She was ninth at the Olympics last year."
Lawrence herself isn't sure she would run the steeplechase at the NCAA national meet either, provided she qualifies.
"Right now [steeplechase is] what I plan on running at nationals," Lawrence said. "But coach Metcalf and I have talked about maybe running the 5k (5,000 meters). We're not really sure what we're going to do yet."
Meanwhile, Strong sees a bright future for Lawrence as a steeplechaser, whether she decides to run it this year at nationals or not.
"If you look at what Jenny Barringer did as a freshman, Mel's ahead of her," Strong said. "[Mel's] got to believe that it's great she's got that example out in front of her. Steeplechase is a fairly new event for women. So, for Mel, she can be part of the NCAA getting faster."