Jan. 10, 2011
During the 2010 cross country season, the Husky women's team went through a few years worth of ups and downs in just a few weeks. A preseason favorite, Washington dropped down to 20th in the national rankings, as top runners joined the team late, battling back from illness and injuries.
Coach Metcalf's talented group put it all together at the West Regional meet, defeating Top-10 squads from Oregon, Arizona, and Stanford to win for the third year in a row and sew up another NCAA Championships berth. But the inexperience on the roster combined with the quick turnaround between Regionals and Nationals for a group that missed a lot of racing earlier in the year led to a 16th-place finish that, while great for most programs, was not the podium finish the Huskies had hoped for and achieved the past two years.
With the calendar turning to track, it now gives the women's runners a great chance to settle in for the long haul, go at their own speeds, and with the whirlwind fall behind them, continue to build for what could be a memorable winter and spring.
The Huskies have as deep and talented a roster on the women's side as any team in the country, and the only drawback of the cross country season is that only seven get to run in the end. Track allows the full breadth of the program to impress.
Two runners that most symbolize the selflessness and determination in the face of adversity that was the cross country campaign are All-Americans Christine Babcock and Mel Lawrence. Both came off injuries and limited training to join the team late, and made the difference in UW reaching another Nationals. Babcock in particular did not race until the Pac-10 Championships, foregoing a possible redshirt season to put the team first. And that was after a layoff of nearly a full year from racing, as the Irvine, Calif. native rehabbed a difficult foot injury.
Now back to racing, Coach Metcalf is looking forward to the pair getting the consistency of training that they missed heading into the fall.
"Mel is coming off an up and down summer, and Christine didn't run at all in the spring and summer months so they were both getting back into it," says Metcalf. "Christine came in this fall completely unprepared for racing so all things considered I think she had a great cross country season. With Mel, consistency breeds success for her. So they both finished the season, and walked away from the NCAA Championships unsatisfied. So I think they head into the track season psyched about the indoor and outdoor campaign and they both went home and had very good Decembers of training."
Lawrence, a three-time track All-American, has two full track seasons remaining. Despite a hip flexor tear at the start of the 2010 outdoor season, she came back to earn All-America honors in the steeplechase for the second year, but wasn't the national title contender she expects to be. The Pac-10 record-holder in the event will look to get back under the 10-minute mark this year, while also looking for a third-straight NCAA Indoor appearance in the 3k or 5k. Babcock has not run on the track since the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships, so there is a lot of excitement around her return.
"We were talking that this is this first time (Christine's) trained in well over a year. In the fall she did some stuff; she had her biggest mileage week last week since probably fall of her freshman year. She'd just like to get back and get to racing because there's a lot in there," Metcalf says. "And Mel, our is goal is to develop consistency and for Mel this is about training through the NCAA track championships and to the U.S. Championships this year so I think they're both very capable of getting to the national meet, scoring points and doing great things for us.
"They're definitely at this point two of the leaders of our distance group and leaders of our track program as a whole."
The Huskies also welcome back a large group of young women with NCAA first round experience, each of who will be looking to take the next step and advance to the final national site, which this year is in Des Moines, Iowa. Metcalf looks at the roster of accomplished returners and says, "there's a large contingent of young women that have the goal of being in Eugene for the NCAA first round with a shot at making it to the national meet."
Sophomore Justine Johnson will look to be one of the leaders in the mid-distances. The Victoria, B.C. standout made the Pac-10 final at 1,500-meters last year and made it to NCAA prelims. She built momentum this fall with a fantastic postseason highlighted by a seventh-place finish at NCAA West Regionals.
"This last cross country season Justine had a meteoric rise and she went from never running in our top seven to finishing 15th in the Pac-10 meet and 7th at the West Regional, and honestly went to the national championships with aspirations to be an All-American. That didn't materialize, but I think she gained tremendous confidence from the fall. She wants to find a way to get to the indoor championships and I believe she's fully capable of that," says Metcalf.
The longer distance events are where Washington features the bulk of its returning talent. Junior Kayla Evans (Tacoma, Wash.) and sophomore Lindsay Flanagan (Roselle, Ill.) were both NCAA prelim participants last year at 5,000-meters. Flanagan is coming off another strong cross country season and looks set for a strong indoor campaign. Evans had a stress fracture in the fall so her return should be geared more towards the outdoor season. Allison Linnell is another one to watch; as the sophomore made Regionals in the steeplechase as a freshman before redshirting the 2010 season. Linnell (Colts Neck, N.J.) had a bout with bronchitis in the fall but could be in line for some fast times in the steeple and potentially longer distances.
"Allison and Lindsay are both grinders and I think they're excited about the coming track season and they give us lots of depth at 5k and 10k along with Kayla Evans," says Metcalf. "Allison steepled as a freshman, and so we're not sure exactly where she'll wind up. We know she'd like to run 10k. There's not many women out there that have the desire to run 10k but she's one of them."
Sophomore Breanna Huschka (Everett, Wash.) also stepped up to 10k last year and competed at the Pac-10 Championships. She and Alison Ponce (Everett, Wash.) will bolster the long distances, while sophomore Laura Schmitt (Vancouver, Wash.) and redshirt freshman Amy Before (Spokane, Wash.) will contribute in the 800-meters. Sophomore Courtney Lightfoot (Oak Park, Calif.) also ran everything from the 800m up to the steeplechase for UW last year and is in her best shape yet.
Several other returning Huskies are at various points in recovery from bangs and bruises. Senior Kenna Patrick (Federal Way, Wash.) had a fall stress fracture and is back training and hopes to run indoors. Junior Nikki Codd (Spokane, Wash.), a Pac-10 finalist at 800-meters last year and an NCAA Prelim qualifier, remains sidelined with the hip injury that kept her from running in Austin last year. Sophomore Grace Green (Troy, Mich.) is also running again after a foot injury cut short a strong beginning to her cross country season. Metcalf looks towards at least mid-February before that group could be back on the track full-time.
As anyone who followed the cross country season is well aware, the Huskies also welcome a tremendous group of newcomers this season. The group was rated the No. 1 class in the nation by Flotrack.org, and backed it up in the fall, with three freshmen running in UW's top-seven at the NCAA Championships.
Des Moines native Katie Flood showed her abundance of talent from the get-go. Despite missing a large chunk of summer training recovering from a stress fracture, the prep phenom joined UW's travel squad for Pre-Nationals, and placed 23rd in her first outing. She then took sixth at the Pac-10 Championships and West Regionals, the top freshman finisher in each, and led the Huskies with a 78th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Flood was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year for her efforts.
"Katie Flood is a gifted, talented kid. This track season, just based on what she did this fall and her last track season in high school, I think she's got a chance to get to NCAA Indoors in the mile, 3k or 5k, and run a great leg on the DMR. Katie gives us lots of options."
Also running with the top pack of Dawgs all fall were freshmen Liberty Miller (Simi Valley, Calif.) and Mackeznie Carter. Both should have smooth transitions to the track. Carter (Fayetteville, N.Y.) has some steeple experience and could sample that event outdoors. But first things first, Metcalf sees Miller, Carter, and Flood, as well as prep national champ Megan Goethals (Rochester, Mich.) and local standout Chelsea Orr (Sammamish, Wash.) keeping their attention on the trails for a few more weeks before getting to the track.
"One of our goals with our freshmen is to get to the first week of February (Feb. 5) and take a shot at making the USA Cross Country Junior Team," Metcalf says. "We have five women that are junior age eligible, so we have a chance to run a whole team at that meet," which will be run in San Diego.
From there all the freshmen should compete regularly on the track. The possible exceptions are California standouts Chloe Curtis and Megan Morgan (Del Mar, Calif.). Both redshirted the fall and may still need some recovery time before their Husky debuts. Metcalf calls Morgan's injury "nothing too bad" but she will need training time. And Cutis (Redondo Beach, Calif.) could be an instant force in the mid-distances, but Metcalf says they want to be patient with her foot injury.
"Chloe is a super competitor; I don't think she needs much time, she's still young. I think has tremendous range from 800-meters to beyond a mile for sure. But she's probably one that will wait for the outdoor season," says Metcalf.
Another key addition is sophomore Phoebe Merritt, a Seattle native who transferred from Occidental College in Southern California. She had a strong freshman cross country season in 2009 for the D-III Tigers but hasn't had a full track season in two years and has shown plenty of potential that has Metcalf thinking big.
"Just watching her training and her approach, I don't think Phoebe has scratched the surface in terms of what she's capable of doing this track season so we're excited, she's just a youngster. I think Phoebe's got great range from a mile to 5k so we'll ease her into the indoor season and then figure it out, but based on what we've seen this fall she is capable of scoring at the MPSF championships and being one of our gals that will tee it up and run at Pac-10s."
The women's distance crew has been the biggest point scorers at the conference and NCAA meets the past few years, and looks to have all the potential to make noise on a national stage once again.