April 8, 2011
PEPSI TEAM INVITATIONAL
April 9, 2011 - Hayward Field - Eugene, Oregon
Washington vs. Oregon, Stanford, Nebraska
» Live from 12:30-3 p.m. on Comcast Sports Net | Live Results
On Wednesday afternoon in the Dempsey, more than twenty Huskies were bunched together on the turf, crossing back and forth slowly and stretching in a businesslike fashion. The pace would pick up soon. On this day, the Washington sprints group was swelled to larger numbers by several of UW's multi-event athletes, sliding right in seamlessly and adding to the unit's impressive numbers.
Practice for track and field is usually a much different concept than it is for most of the other Husky teams, with different event groups coming and going throughout the day, but on Wednesday the sprinters and hurdlers were nothing if not unified.
The Huskies are looking to prove that this is the most well-rounded, unified, and most importantly, fastest group of sprinters certainly in coach Raul Sheen's three years, and potentially well beyond.
"Husky sprints need to be back on the map, because I feel like people underestimate us a little bit," says senior Dominique Lauderdale, still catching her breath after a challenging end to her interval workout. "It's good to see the whole group working hard and then go out on the track and have it show for us. It's good to see us getting noticed."
There is still a lot to prove, but Washington's opener at the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago definitely turned heads. Known more for producing fantastic distance times (and UW had a number of those as well) the sprinters stole some of the spotlight, led by 100-meter dash victories from Lauderdale and sophomore James Alaka.
Alaka, the London transplant, made his 2011 debut at Stanford. After running a solid but unspectacular 10.57 in the prelims, Alaka admits "I was kind of doubting myself, which I don't do often." Alaka was the top freshman finisher at the NCAA Championships last year at 200-meters, and second in the 100m, but after just one unattached race in the indoor season, it had been a while since he really let fly.
But then Alaka watched Lauderdale line up for her 100-dash final, and cruise to a major personal-best of 11.54 seconds, winning by five meters. That served as a wake-up call.
"Once I saw Domo run, knowing everything she's been through with injuries, just to see her run that well, I thought to myself `if Domo can do it, I should go out and do it too.' She set the tone and I thought I'm going to go off her momentum and do the same thing."
In the final, Alaka was out of the blocks last out of the seven competitors, but at top speed he pushed past the field for the win in 10.37 seconds. Second-place notably went to pro runner Josh Norman, who set the Dempsey facility record in the 60-meter dash this year, and went on to make the 60-meter finals at the U.S. Indoor Championships.
"I was excited to race him," says Alaka. "I saw his name on the entry list and I was super excited because of what he did in the Dempsey. To beat him felt good." Most importantly for Alaka "it was an affirmation of the training we've been doing, that we've been working hard and I'm in good shape."
The fact that she was able to inspire someone with Alaka's talent was music to Lauderdale's ears. After transferring to UW from Arkansas as a sophomore, Lauderdale struggled to get healthy. Last year she reached the NCAA prelims with a best time of 10.77, but that was still just scratching the surface. Indoors, she posted the No. 2 time in school history in the 60m, clocking a 7.37, and she's still picking up speed.
But Lauderdale says the best part of this year is just being there day in and day out with her teammates, doing all the same workouts without limitations, and feeling the support. "It was real exciting for me to get the win, but the best part was just hearing the cheers from my teammates from the stands," Lauderdale says. "Then sitting and watching James race--I had the same nerves watching him that I had for myself."
Washington has not lacked for standout individuals over the past few years. Last season, senior Falesha Ankton PR'd right down to her last meet, placing ninth in the 100-meter hurdles at NCAAs to earn All-America honors. Ankton still works regularly with the group as a volunteer assistant and now competes for Brooks. The year before Jordan Boase won the Pac-10 title at 400-meters and was third at the NCAA Indoor meet for the second year in a row.
But Boase was just a youngster during the last excellent stretch for the men in the middle of the last decade, when the Huskies had six different combos run under 3:09 in the 4x4. Now Washington looks to be assembling the pieces necessary to start chasing those times once again.
A big addition this season was Federal Way's Maurice McNeal. After coming on late in the indoor season, McNeal opened with a very strong 200-meter time of 21.23 seconds, which is just a tenth off of UW's Top-10 list and should get him to NCAA Prelims later this season. The quiet but confident freshman has latched on to the team vibe and the competition each day in practice.
"Everyone is friends and everyone can talk and be social, and the coaches are part of that. We're all buddies and everyone is excited to go run," says McNeal, though at the end of the day everyone wants to be the fastest. "Everyone wants to be first in every interval that we do in practice. There's a ton of competition. On the 4x4, there's seven or eight guys that have potential to be a leg."
McNeal could grab one of those spots, but the remaining spots will likely be taken by returners whose continued development will be key to this season.
The first outdoor meet saw also personal-bests from sophomores Colton Dunn and Johanna Carr, and significantly from junior Jordan Carlson, who, like Lauderdale, has taken the long road to full health but is operating on the highest level of her career early on this season. The Spokane native ran 55.24 in the 400-meters, and could soon be the first Husky woman under 55-seconds in five years time. As practice finished up on Wednesday, Carlson pushed herself above and beyond at the end of a nearly 2,000-meter interval workout, sprinting to the finish line and leaving her teammates and Coach Sheen laughing and impressed by the willpower. It encapsulated the attitude Alaka says the Huskies are looking to embrace this season.
"I think everyone has come with a new mentality. We all realize from last year that it's really tough to score at Pac-10s, to make it to Regionals and on to Nationals. Collectively as a group, we came in full and said we need to change our mentality, and think like winners. There's no one who's unbeatable. It's a real team unit, and I wouldn't say we didn't have it last year but it's a lot stronger this year, and I think that's been the main difference in people running faster."