Dec. 3, 2009
By Joe Darda
Prior to the 2007 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Katie Follett was asked, "The all-time best finish for the [Washington] program is 9th, is that something that's in the minds of the team?" The then-sophomore's answer was simple and--ultimately--prophetic: "We all know if we go out there and put out an effort, that amazing things can happen and are going to happen."
Amazing things happened. The Huskies finished 8th that year, won a national title in 2008 and, this year, took home a third-place team trophy. In each championship, Follett claimed All-American honors, joining Regina Joyce as the only Husky to do so three times. On the track, she won back-to-back Pac-10 titles at 1500m, competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, and clocked some of the fastest times, 800 through 5,000 meters, in program history. In a sport marked by ups and downs, Follett has been a steadying hand for the Washington women's distance team.
"I have a lot of belief in the program," she says. "That's why I came to Washington in the first place. I could see that [head coach] Metcalf was really excited about the team and that the program was building. We've just continued to add more pieces since."
Follett's belief in Washington and coach Metcalf proved infectious. Since her arrival from Fort Collins, Colorado in 2005, a string of high school state champions and national finalists have followed suit. Mel Lawrence, Lauren Saylor, Kendra Schaaf and Christine Babcock, just to name a few, all joined Follett in Seattle. And yet, despite her teammates' many accomplishments, Follett remained at the center of the program's success, contributing timely performances and vocal leadership.
"We've added a lot of firepower since," Metcalf says, "but Katie was one of our first big recruits. She kind of got the ball rolling for us."
At nationals last week, Follett and company took aim at an unprecedented second consecutive title, entering the meet as the top-ranked team in the nation. In the end, the Huskies finished third, beaten by a pair of strong teams from Villanova and Florida State. However, Follett, the lone senior, took consolation in her team's second consecutive--and second ever--team trophy.
"Obviously we had high expectations with the undefeated season and bringing back so many girls after winning last year," she says. "But there were a lot of great teams out there and we were very proud to bring our third-place trophy back to Seattle."
It was, in fact, a day of upsets and surprises in Terre Haute. On the men's side, top-ranked Stanford struggled to a disappointing 10th-place team finish and, in the women's race, individual favorite Colorado senior Jenny Barringer crossed the line in a distant 163rd after collapsing mid-race. Follett though was, in her coach's words, calm, cool and collected throughout. Despite battling late-season illness, she finished 23rd overall at nationals, managing press conferences and media attention all the way.
"It was crazy," Follett admits, "but I also think it was a typical nationals race. When you put that many great athletes on the start line, things don't usually go according to plan."
Although Follett has run her last cross country race in a Washington uniform, her collegiate career is far from over. The senior already has her eyes set on the fast approaching track season, where she hopes to add to her ever-growing All-American trophy collection--she owns six to date--and perhaps win an unprecedented third straight Pac-10 title in the 1500-meters.
"[Last] outdoors she won another Pac-Ten championship in pretty cool fashion," Metcalf recalls. "She went to the front and led the whole thing and just exhibited tremendous toughness down the homestretch. [That season] ended at the NCAA Championships, where we walked away after the meet and had a long conversation about what are our goals for next year and beyond. They are higher than ever."
With graduation on the horizon, Follett, a Public Health major, intends on returning to school eventually; she hopes to pursue graduate work in physical therapy. As a regular on the conference All-Academic team, Follett will be well prepared, though graduate school may have to wait a few years, as the Colorado-native has professional aspirations as a runner--and rightly so.
"Running is what I'm passionate about," Follett says. "I want to follow through all the way. Though, for now, I'm really excited about track. We've all built a great base and I know all that hard work this fall is going to pay off for us."
As anxious for track as Follett might be, her pronouns--`we' and `us'--give her away. After finishing the final race in a decorated four seasons of cross country, Follett already knew what she would miss: "Even though I still have track left, it was a little bit sad. I know I'll never be able to experience that again, standing on the start line with all the girls, racing together."