Jan. 13, 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.
Sprints, Hurdles, Relays
Raul Sheen heads into his second season directing the Husky sprinters and hurdlers, with both men's and women's squads possessing a good mix of senior leadership and young talent.
In Sheen's first season, six UW sprinters qualified for the Regional meet and five went on to NCAAs. Senior Jordan Boase earned his fifth All-America honor indoors, and the Husky men's 4x100m relay ran its best race when it needed it most, earning the final spot to nationals with three seniors running what could have been their final race.
The women's 4x1 relay ran the sixth-best time in school history and returns all four legs. Sheen has made it known that the relays should be the pride of the program, and is looking to build around that concept even more this year.
"When I came to Washington that was one of the things I really started pushing as a philosophy," says Sheen. "Our foundation here needs to be built around the relays. I'm passionate about them. No other event group gets to be a team within a team like that."
On the men's side of things, senior Jeff Gudaitis out of Tacoma possesses the combination of experience and success to make for a successful leader. Gudaitis ran the lead leg on UW's NCAA-qualifying 4x1 relay last year and reached NCAAs himself in the open 400-meters. He will be an essential part of any relay this year.
Coach Sheen has been impressed with Gudaitis' recent training role on the squad, stating that, "Jeff's come back a little bit hungry. He had a great fall. It's been fun watching Jeff change, not just physically from a track preparation standpoint, but also into a leadership role being one of the only seniors on the team. I think it's helped him get ready, and it's definitely helped the young guys."
The other grizzled vet is senior Kenjamine Jackson, a Kentwood grad, who has only indoor eligibility remaining but should be one of the top competitors at the MPSF Championships. Jackson scored at MPSFs last year in both the 60- and 200-meter dashes, and will look to do the same this year.
"Kenjamine is really the most experienced of the group," said Sheen. "He's the guy I wish we had 10 of for sure with what he brings to our team from just a good person standpoint."
The Huskies will get a big boost with the return of Ryan Hamilton, who anchored the Huskies' Pac-10 Champion 4x100m relay squad in 2008. Hamilton (Vancouver, Wash.) redshirted last season so is just a sophomore in his third year in the program and will be primarily a 100-200 threat.
"The year off was huge for him, he's stronger and he's technically fixed a couple things that I think will hopefully translate into better times," says Sheen. "He's really excited for this year."
Additional returners include junior Miles Timpe (Enumclaw, Wash.), a two-time Pac-10 competitor in the 400m hurdles, and sophomore Sam Rucker (Seabeck, Wash.), who could contribute in the open 400 and certainly the 4x4 relay.
Several new Huskies will don the purple and gold this indoor season and a pair of freshmen certainly have the credentials to make an instant impact. James Alaka came across the pond from London, England and won the national U20 100-meter Championship in 2008 with a time of 10.52 seconds. Colton Dunn made a shorter trip to UW from the small town of Bush Prairie, Washington and won a state title at 200-meters.
"The two big adds for the spring are James Alaka and Colton Dunn. Both are 100-200 guys, though Colton's going to move up to 400 a little bit. James is a U-20 national champion and has run some pretty good times. Both will be running on relays and going for it this year," said Sheen.
Another newcomer, Shayne Moore from Blaine, Wash., could help the Huskies in the short hurdles this year, while multi-event standouts Jeremy Taiwo and Andrew Ferleman will do their part. Sheen also credited freshman Dan Sanders for earning his way aboard and sees him as a potential factor at 400-meters down the line.
Assessing the overall talent pool, Sheen feels, "We'll probably continue to be 400-meter based more than anything if you just look at the roster, not looking at times or talent. Jeff Gudaitis, Miles Timpe, Sam Rucker, Colton Dunn, Dan Sanders, all those guys are definitely 400-meter based. Then Ryan, James, and Kenjamine will make up our short group."
The women's group is led by undoubtedly one of the leaders of the overall track team, senior Falesha Ankton.
"She's probably the leader of the team, not just this group," Sheen said. "She's just one of those people that everybody enjoys being around and she makes everybody better."
Ankton was the 2008 West Region runner-up in the 100m hurdles, and an NCAA Outdoor competitor, as well as earning All-America honors last season as the 400-meter leg of UW's distance medley relay. She only has outdoor eligibility left but as the second-fastest hurdler in Washington history, Ankton plans on scoring well at Pac-10s and has the talent to get to Eugene for NCAAs once again. Her 2009 season did not end as she had hoped, which should provide extra motivation this spring.
"Falesha got the Regional mark really early and late in the year I think just a little fatigue set in. She ran pretty well at Pac-10s but just missed the final," said Sheen. "This year we're just on the same page a little bit better. We're just continuing to build on what we worked on last year, not rewriting the book by any means. She looks really good, she came back from the break really inspired and ready to get going. She's got USA Indoors that we're looking at, and she's talented enough to make it there which will help us get to the outdoor season."
The storyline last season was the UW freshman class that got its feet wet early and showed great promise towards the end of the year. Bianca Greene, Amber Finley, and Jordan Carlson are all back a year stronger and more experienced, and that group includes junior Dominique Lauderdale who joined UW from Arkansas as a sophomore. The whole group ran at Pac-10s last season and should push each other to new heights this year.
There's some serious firepower in the women's group but it's just a matter of getting it figured out and keeping everyone healthy," said Sheen.
Greene is loaded with talent and could be making the move to the 200-400 set. She anchored the 4x1 relay last year which posted the sixth-best time in school history.
"Bianca's one where we're still constantly trying to keep her healthy. She just needs to be monitored, but she's pretty special," Sheen says. "When she's putting it together, and she's healthy and having a good day on the track, she's as good as anybody that I've coached. I think she's a true 200-meter person as much as there is one."
Lauderdale belongs in the same category. She led the team at 100-meters last year, running 11.91 and Sheen says Lauderdale "came out with basically no training and won our 88-meter intrasquad race, which she probably shouldn't have based on what she'd been doing, but so that's a testament to her talent for sure."
Finley and Carlson were the top performers at 400-meters last season and will set the bar higher in 2010.
"Amber Finley has put in a great fall of training. She's really fired up to get the season going for sure. She's probably our true 400-meter runner. Also she is a great leader. She goes about it quietly but I think she inspires everybody with what she does in workouts," says Sheen. "Jordan Carlson can also be a really great quarter-miler but she's still getting healthy at this point."
In the 400-meter hurdles, senior Syreeta Martin provides the same veteran stability that Ankton does with the short hurdles. Martin placed fifth at the Pac-10 Championships in the 400 hurdles back in 2007, and will look to get back to the sub-60-second form she showed that season.
She's definitely a Pac-10 scorer at 400 hurdles and I think she makes our relay team much better," says Sheen. "With the format this year for NCAAs I don't see any reason why she shouldn't be in Austin with us either."
Noteworthy new faces include Johanna Carr from Issaquah, Wash. Carr was a four-year state qualifier, second in the 100m dash in 2008. She should enhance an already talented 4x1 relay. Sheen also credits the early hard work of Skye Atchley of Yorba Linda, Calif. who projects in the 400 hurdles.
While the men will have to reload their 4x1 relay, the women's pool has only gotten deeper, says Sheen. "Our women's 4x1 returns everybody and we probably get stronger with the addition of Johanna Carr. The men with guys like James Alaka, Ryan Hamilton, Colton Dunn, Jeff Gudaitis, and Jordan Polk who may be coming out, we've got a pretty good group there that can run just as fast as last year."