Nov. 16, 2012
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Kayla Evans isn't stressed over running in this weekend's NCAA cross country championships.
By now she's so over stress.
Finally over it.
"I am a stress fracture magnet. In my running career dating to high school I've had seven stress fractures, the last two of which were very close together," the engaging senior said with a knowing laugh before she and her seventh-ranked Huskies women's team joined men's lone entrant Joey Bywater in travelling to Louisville, Ky., for Saturday's national finals.
"It's been five years of blood, sweat, tears - and broken bones."
Evans, UW's sixth runner, has been a surprise this fall running with the stacked Dawgs team - a surprise given that, as she puts it, "it's been two years since I've had any semblance of a decent racing season, where I actually competed the entire time."
She is a fifth-year senior from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma about to graduate with a science degree. Yet this is the first time since 2009 that she's been able to train and compete for an entire Huskies cross country season.
Last year at this time she could barely walk. She was in the middle of trying to recover from a pubic stress fracture detected late in 2010, just after she running at the Pac-10 cross country championships in Seattle.
She was unable to even jog for seven months. She missed all of the 2011 fall cross country season and didn't return to competition until late in UW's track season this past spring.
"So it's been quite the journey," she deadpanned.
"For her ... to be running at this year's NCAA championships is a testament to (Evans') intestinal fortitude," Greg Metcalf said. "She's just persevered."
So, yes, this weekend's return to her first NCAA cross country championship since she was redshirt freshman in 2009 and Washington placed third as a team in Terre Haute, Ind., is a big deal for Evans - and for fellow cross country seniors Bywater and Lindsay Flanagan.
"It's quite the accomplishment, I'd say, being a fifth-year and being able to stand here and say I am healthy and racing well," Evans said.
She says she is running faster and easier than she ever has, thanks to a training plan changed in the name of preservation. She now does shorter runs of lessened intensity.
Her coach thinks her NCAA finals appearance is a big deal, too.
"For her to get through being banged up and be running at this year's NCAA championships is a testament to her intestinal fortitude," Greg Metcalf said. "She's just persevered."
Evans is set to graduate next spring and wants to be a middle-school science teacher.
She says her "love" for science came from a teacher of hers in grade school who allowed her class to "build fires, to build a flamethrower." She has already volunteered in classrooms as a teacher's aide at Madrona K-8 School in Seattle, and in math and literacy at the Seattle World School, a bilingual orientation center. She has an April deadline to enroll in a master's teaching program at UW's suburban Bothell campus.
She talks about those aspirations with as much enthusiasm as she does her return to health and championship running.
"I really love kids," she said. "And I really love science.
"It's a little scary: Life plans!"
This is the third consecutive NCAA cross country finals for Flanagan. And she could help decide whether the Huskies get a top-four podium spot at the NCAAs Saturday morning for the fourth time in five years. She'd been fifth in Washington's lineup before; she may run three or four this time.
Flanagan is also coming back from injury. She fell down stairs and missed all of last spring's track season. That was after she improved 70 spots to 92nd in the 2011 NCAA cross country championships compared to her first run in them in 2011. That spike helped push Washington to within a handful of points of another national title.
The senior from Roselle, Ill., will graduate next winter, after one more track season this spring. She is closing in on a degree in public health, with a minor in global health and nutrition. She may attend graduate school and then perhaps become a dietician - ideally working for a professional sports team.
But her focus right now is these NCAA finals.
"We're the team that performs well at the end, when it matters," she said. "We've tapered (training) - and good things can happen."
Evans admiringly calls Flanagan a "mileage hound." Flanagan regular logs 80 miles a week during the fall and into the track season. She has tapered "way down" to 50 miles a week this month in preparation for Saturday's national finals. Tuesday, for instance, she ran seven miles instead of her normal 13.
Last year the Huskies' women were ranked in the top five - and came within eight points of winning their second women's team championship in four years.
"Our conference, the Pac-12 and the regional, we've made steady progress. Getting onto the podium, I think, is a realistic goal," Metcalf said. "Right now I'd say - begrudgingly - that Oregon and Florida State are the favorites. Our goal is to go, run well, and to be standing on the podium when it's done."
Bywater is in a unique spot. Among the more than 250 men running Saturday on the 10,000-meter NCAA championship course in Louisville, he will be the lone one from Washington.
The UW men were by many accounts the last team to miss out on the NCAA championships field last weekend after the regionals in Seattle. But Bywater, who finished a career-best eighth in the regionals, will still be the first Huskies male in the NCAA finals meet since 2009, when he was a redshirt freshman on a UW team that finished 18th.
"Joey Bywater would trade this for his team being there, in one second," Metcalf said. "Joey's goal right now is to finish in the top 40 and go be an All-American. That's what he's shooting for.
"But he'd rather have six other guys toeing the line with him."
Bywater, from Lake Stevens, Wash., also wants to be a teacher, in math, and perhaps a middle school or high school track coach. He is a math major at UW, and is set to graduate after the winter quarter. He then has a track season of eligibility remaining, which he expects to fulfill in the mile indoors this winter and in the 1,500 and 5,000 this spring. Bywater was the anchor on UW's record-setting distance medley relay last winter, earning All-America Second Team honors.
As for teaching, he says "what sparked that is I like hanging out with kids."
And they like hanging out with him. The big kids.
He said his teammates are proud and excited for him making the NCAAs even though they did not as a team. They are so excited and supportive, they joined him Saturday morning, hours after they'd learned they'd just missed making the finals field, for a supportive run with him from his house in the north Seattle neighborhood of Wedgewood around Green Lake.
"They are really happy for me to keep running," he said.
Saturday, for the last time on a cross country course, as UW's lone man at the national championships, he will keep running.