Jan. 11, 2011
Transitioning from the trails to the track has the Husky men's distance group brimming with optimism. Key returners in each event, talented newcomers set to address important needs, and the continued overall development of a young group of men with just two seniors on the roster has head coach Greg Metcalf waiting impatiently for the first gun to go off in the Dempsey this week.
"I'm very excited about this group of young men," says Metcalf. "It'll be fun to see how it all works itself out over the indoor season and as we roll into the outdoor season. I think we have lots of interchangeable parts and solid depth, so I'm looking forward to getting them all on the track at the same time and see what happens.
Packing the track with all of UW's distance runners might cause a bit of a pile up, luckily the Huskies have a number of bodies to spread around in the various distances, from 800-meters up to the 10k and everywhere in between.
The fall ended on a very positive uptick for the cross country team. After a promising start to the season was derailed by a few unfortunate injuries to an already very young team, the Huskies rallied for a sixth-place finish at the NCAA West Regional meet, after coming in ranked just 15th in the region. Had the other teams around UW rearranged themselves just a bit, the Huskies could have been headed to a third-straight NCAA Championships. As it was, Washington finished the fall with something to build on. When they could have thrown in the towel and cursed their bad luck, instead a number of newcomers to the top-seven stepped up and made names for themselves.
One Husky that stepped to the forefront was sophomore Rob Webster Jr. He led the team at both the Pac-10 Championships and West Regionals, taking 34th in the first Regional meet of his career. Webster got experience in the 10k last year, running it at Pac-10s in his first track season, and Coach Metcalf is looking forward to seeing Webster (Puyallup, Wash.) continue to build momentum from the strong finish to the fall.
"Rob has worked hard to get to this point and is starting to see some return on that now. After his cross country season, I'm excited to see how it translates on the track. He's a guy that can run anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000-meters for us."
Washington's most accomplished returner on the track is senior Colton Tully-Doyle. The San Diego native broke through last year during the indoor season, setting the new indoor school record at 5,000-meters with a time of 13:48.86, and going on to place 12th at the NCAA Indoor Championships. He also scored at the Pac-10 meet in the 5k. With no cross country eligibility remaining, Tully-Doyle trained through the fall with his eye on the track season, and earning that first coveted All-America honor.
"The track season gets exciting right away because we add Colton back. He's chomping at the bit," says Metcalf, "he wants to get after it. Colton made the national meet last year, and once you make it, you want to get back."
The toughest setback for the Dawgs in the fall was junior Max O'Donoghue-McDonald missing the rest of the season after his Sundodger Invite win. But the Seattle Prep alum is back healthy and looking to enjoy a full season indoors and out. Sophomore Joey Bywater (Lake Stevens, Wash.) is also set to run his first track times since 2009, when he was a Pac-10 finalist at 1,500-meters as a freshman. Both Bywater and O'Donoghue-McDonald have shown great things when healthy and are two of UW's most versatile distance runners. O'Donoghue-McDonald finished last track season with a 21st-place finish in the West Region at 5,000-meters, and Bywater is coming off a strong cross country season.
"Max has endured a lot," Metcalf knows. "It's been the weirdest collection of dents and dings along the way. It's no mystery; the biggest thing Max has to do is find a way to keep healthy and when you do that and get him on the starting line healthy, he ran great at the end of indoor season last year, he ran great at the first round of the NCAA Championships in Austin. Max is as gifted and talented as any guy we have in our program and he fashions himself as an elite distance runner in our conference. He just hasn't really been able to tie it all together to go out and do that. So we want to be patient and timing is really everything with Max and the goal is to be ready when it matters.
"Joey Bywater hasn't run a track season in almost two years, so it will give our whole team confidence to have him out there. He can run everything but his first goal is to run fast in the mile and 1,500-meters again. He was just in the office this week talking about the season, and I'm excited to put him on the track and see what happens."
Aside from Tully-Doyle, the only other senior is Jordan Swarthout out of Olympia. Swarthout figures to be one of Washington's top runners in the 5k and especially the 10k, where he was less than a second away from the Top-10 list last year and also qualified for NCAA Prelims.
"There's a couple guys there who have expressed interest in running the 10k, Jordan and Rob are the first to come to mind," says Metcalf. "Max has some desire to move up a little bit. But a number of our guys from the top-seven in the fall are capable of moving up if need be. Jordan gives us a veteran presence there for sure."
Sophomore James Cameron was another Husky harrier that ended the fall on a high note, as he was UW's second finisher at Pre-Nationals and the Pac-10 Championships, and then third at West Regionals in 42nd-place, just 10 seconds behind Webster and three behind Bywater. Cameron (Lake Forest, Calif.) was very solid in his rookie track season a year ago, running 4:06.99 in the mile indoors and anchoring UW's DMR at the MPSF meet.
"James was a track guy before he was a cross-country guy, so with the successes that he had this fall, he's getting incrementally better every season. I think he's certainly better right now than a year ago," says Metcalf. "He can run 4:02 or 4:03 (in the mile) I think. I think he's strong and I think he had a successful summer and fall and I think he's excited for the track season for sure."
Two of the most improved Huskies this fall were redshirt freshmen Gareth Gilna and Taylor Carlson. Gilna (Los Alamos, N.M.) was one of the top prep milers in 2008, but struggled to stay consistently healthy last year. Carlson, out of San Antonio, Texas, made major gains over the summer, to join Gilna on the first road trip of the fall, where they wound up in UW's top three at the Notre Dame Invitational. They remained in the top-seven for the rest of the fall, running at both postseason meets.
"Gareth Gilna left high school as one of the best milers in the country, then struggled last year as many freshmen do, but I think he had a really solid cross-country season after a great summer of training. We should start to see what he's capable of on the track this year," says Metcalf. "And Taylor's much better equipped to go around the track and I think he's a guy who's going to surprise some people when they see his name on the results. I'm looking forward to watching him run and getting a better idea of the progress he's really made."
The 800-meters could develop into one of the biggest strengths for the men this year. Sophomore Michael Miller Jr. (Anchorage, Alaska) gained some big experience at the end of last track season, running the 800m at the Pac-10 Championships. He then came on strong at the end of the cross country season, scoring for UW for the first time at both Pac-10s and Regionals. Miller joins juniors Ryan Soberanis (Camas, Wash.) and Ryan Styrk (Seattle, Wash.), both of who also ran at Pac-10s a year ago, with Soberanis advancing to the NCAA first round in Austin in the 1,500m.
Metcalf adds a few more names into the 800 mix as well: "Michael Miller has always been more at home on the track, but he had a great fall for us. Then we've got Soberanis and Styrk and even the youngster, (freshman) Kyle Blume, as the Washington State runner-up last year. Brad Whitley has made some progress and I think they had a solid fall of training. But, I think Ryan Soberanis is the one that will maybe surprise some folks this year. I think he can run much faster, so I'm excited to watch because I think this indoor season will be his coming-out party."
Then that brings up the big headliner of the freshman class, Sean Krinik out of Valencia High in Yorba Linda, California. Krinik was the top 800-meter runner in the nation last year, winning the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina and posting a U.S.-best time of 1:48.20 in winning the California state meet, the eighth-fastest time ever by an American prep. He was named Gatorade Boys Track Athlete of the Year for California, and looks to follow in the footsteps of recent UW All-American 800-meter specialists Ryan Brown and Austin Abbott. Krinik had a minor back issue coming into the fall and has not gone all out yet in training, but his debut might not be too far off.
"Sean's making some progress," says Metcalf. "He kind of hurt his back this last summer and his fall wasn't perfect but his month of November and then December was much better. He's gifted and talented but we'll be very patient with him and see how things progress. He's a 1:48 kid out of high school so we're excited to see what's in store for him. Coming in here, he's a kid you thought, coming out of high school, he'd have a chance to score at the Pac-10 meet and get to the national meet and then from there we ask, `How good is he?' He's a great racer, he's got great instincts, he's tough as nails. He'll be exciting to watch."
Metcalf's personal specialty from his glory days was of course the steeplechase, and UW could have its most competitive steeple group this year since Carl Moe earned All-America honors in 2008. Junior David McCary (Kirkland, Wash.) and sophomore Greg Drosky (Walnut Creek, Calif.) were 10th and 11th, respectively, in the Pac-10 steeple last year, and Metcalf hopes one or both can close in on the nine-minute barrier there. James Cameron may see some time in the steeple as well this year, and freshman Aaron Beattie out of Naperville, Illinois could also be in the mix after a solid fall season where he redshirted.
"I think for Drosky and McCary, the big goal is to use the indoor season to really build up to the outdoor track season and see if those two guys can find a way to run under nine minutes this spring and score at the Pac-10 Championships, that's really the ultimate goal with those two. They've both continued to get stronger. Also, watching Aaron Beattie work out this fall, I think he's going to be a pretty good distance runner for us. This spring of course will really be the first time he races. I think he's a 3k/5k guy with some steeple potential so I'm excited about Aaron."
After the up and down fall, the men are looking forward to the smooth rhythm of the track to really make a move.