Jan. 10, 2012
The 2012 track and field season begins in a big way on January 14, as Washington hosts the UW Indoor Preview in the Dempsey Indoor. From there the Dawgs will compete through the NCAA Indoor Championships in March and then quickly switch to the outdoor season, continuing on until June. GoHuskies.com will take a look at what each unit has in store for the season ahead.
SEATTLE - As his fifteenth season at Washington gets underway, assistant coach Pat Licari has one of his most well-rounded groups of jumpers, vaulters, and multi-event athletes in years. Last season, Licari's group produced some of the most memorable moments for UW track, with Scott Roth sweeping the NCAA indoor and outdoor pole vault titles, Jeremy Taiwo winning the Pac-10 Championship in the decathlon, and Logan Miller coming on strong late in the year to earn her first All-America honors in the pole vault.
Roth has moved on with his wheelbarrow full of awards, but Taiwo and Miller return to headline the group, along with six more NCAA West Prelim qualifiers from last spring who are looking to take the next step. A number of key newcomers will also aim to make an early impact in what promises to be a thrilling season.
Here is a breakdown of the jumps crew event by event.
Last season Scott Roth was a Bowerman Award semifinalist and won the Tom Hansen Pac-10 Conference Medal for UW after closing out his career with both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor pole vault titles. Those gave Coach Licari a total of six NCAA titles in the pole vault in the past nine years combining men and women. So UW's pole vault dynasty is not about to run dry.
Expected to keep things running smoothly is heralded freshman J.J. Juilfs, who comes to Seattle from Eugene, Oregon. Juilfs has been one of the nation's best junior vaulters the past two years, winning the 2011 U.S. Junior Championship with a PR of 17-2 ¾. He then went on to earn silver at the 2011 Pan-Am Junior Championships.
But of course Juilfs cannot be expected to be collecting national titles from his first trip down the runway. Roth's first did not come until his junior year, and his first outdoor title was not until his final collegiate meet. But so far Licari is impressed with Juilfs' skill set.
"J.J. is having great practices and comes in at a level that is highly competitive at the conference level as well as a potential national competitor," says Licari. Juilfs would need to add inches to his PR to immediately be in contention for an NCAA bid, but as they say, the sky is the limit. "Obviously Scott Roth left pretty big shoes to fill, but I think that J.J. is ready to come in and be the next guy."
Senior Robby Fegles could be a candidate for a breakout season. In just his first year working with Licari in 2011, Fegles raised his PR to 16-9 ½ and he took 27th at West Prelims and scored at the Pac-10 meet.
"Robby," says Licari, "is our top returner and he's doing great this fall. He jumped almost at his personal best at the intrasquad meet from a short approach. I'm excited about him and hoping he can get up to that mid to high seventeen foot range that puts a person in contention for national championships. He's fully capable of that."
Looking to jump back on the wave of momentum she rode at the end of the 2011 season is junior Logan Miller, who leads the women's vaulters. Miller went into the West Prelims last year ranked 36th in the West with a PR of 13-0 ¾, but then cleared three-straight new personal-bests to advance to NCAAs at 13-5 ¼. She matched that clearance in Des Moines to place 11th overall and earn All-America Second Team honors. That was the first All-America honor for a Husky women's vaulter since 2008.
The end of last season should only fuel Miller's desire, says Licari. "The end of her season was a huge confidence boost for her and a big motivator I think. She's worked really hard over the summer and fall and she's in great shape."
During the indoor season, in order to reach a second straight national meet, Miller will have to up her personal-best yet again, possibly by as much as five inches, but Licari thinks that is within her grasp. "She's capable of not just getting to nationals and being in the middle of the pack, but maybe getting into the hunt and being competitive there."
Also training at a high level is redshirt freshman Georgia Reynolds, who has come a long way in a year and cleared 13-feet this summer in one of Licari's beach vaults. "I'm excited about her potential to be competitive at least at the conference level," says Licari.
Licari really likes the potential of freshman Kristina Owsinski, but the xxx native is rehabbing a foot injury from high school and will likely redshirt. Also getting into the mix on the men's side is freshman James Van Wyck with a 15-4 PR and Joseph Aubert, who will compete in multi-events but has caught Licari's eye in the vault as well.
"Joseph is a great kid, hard worker, and so I'm excited about him in the vault as well as multis," says Licari, adding of Owsinski that "she's been working really hard, doing what she is capable of. I think once she's healthy she's going to be great."
Nothing looks quite as unlikely in sports as the high jump, until one witnesses an elite athlete bend back and over the bar. The Huskies have a deep group of jumpers this season, and are hoping this is a squad that can make a big impact at the conference level and jump up to meet some NCAA standards.
Heading things for the men will be sophomore A.J. Maricich, who impressed early at the intrasquad meet with a 6-10 ¾ clearance, just missing attempts at seven-feet. That was just off his freshman year PR, and hopefully sets the stage for a big year two.
"What a great way to start out the year," said Licari of the intrasquad effort. "He's doing great and obviously he's a guy that will be a big contributor at the conference level. Indoors he'll need to improve by a couple inches to be a nationals kind of guy, but he started the year off just right for doing that kind of thing."
Decathlon All-American Jeremy Taiwo was typically right with Maricich last year, but Taiwo's return from offseason surgery is to be determined, as detailed in the multi-events section.
Adding depth for the men is freshman Chase Walker, also trying his hand at the multis, but sporting a 6-9 personal-best from high school at Seattle's O'Dea.
On the women's side, nothing has come easy for senior Kelly McNamee since her first indoor season which saw her reach the NCAA Indoor meet. The Spokane native has been snake bit with several injuries, and last season was the most frustrating one yet. After getting back in good form with a 5-10 clearance indoors, McNamee tripped on the metal curb at an outdoor meet and injured her ankle, undermining her outdoor season.
After enduring two frustrating years, the best could still lie ahead for McNamee, and Licari says "I would really be thrilled for her to have a season where she can put it all together. She's feeling healthy right now and doing great."
Junior Caroline Soules and sophomore Alice Verhovek should be factors. Soules went 5-5 at the intrasquad meet, and has conference meet experience. Another couple inches to her personal-best will have her chasing points at the conference level.
"Caroline and Alice both were right around their bests at the intrasquad meet, so I'm hoping those girls will surprise some people this season," says Licari.
The most versatile new athlete on the Husky squad might be Jaleecia Roland of Federal Way. She will test herself in the multi-events but should factor into several individual events as well, starting with the high jump, where she also went 5-5 at the intrasquad meet.
Long and Triple Jumps
A pair of NCAA West Prelim qualifiers are back to power the long and triple jumps for the Husky men. Boise native Kasen Covington set the freshman school record in the triple jump last year, going 50-feet, 8.25-inches during the indoor season. He went on to place sixth at his first Pac-12 meet despite battling a heel bruise late in the season. Bardwell, from Tacoma, qualified for his first Regional meet with a wind-aided best of 24-3 ¾ last season, and will aim to build on that mark indoors and out.
"Kasen and Julian can both do the long and triple jumps but each one has different strengths," says Licari. "Kasen had a strong year last year and was very consistent. The heel bruise affected his championships season negatively. But he's doing well right now and he can take a big step this year.
"Julian has been around the block and has shown consistent improvement and I know he wants to deliver at a conference meet and put some points on the board. It's great that he has two years still to go."
Another returner with a taste of Pac-12 competition is junior Clayton Johnson, who scored for UW indoors at the MPSF Championships last year, placing seventh in the triple jump. Licari would like to see Johnson add some points now at Pac-12s.
The big x-factor for UW will be the legs of standout football frosh Kasen Williams, who just wrapped up a great first fall on the gridiron. Williams was one of the top prep jumpers in the country last year, and he showed why in his first Apple Cup, when he made a highlight-reel leap over a Cougar defender down the sidelines. Williams had the No. 10 long jump in the country during his senior track season, and the No. 4 triple jump, while also winning every high jump competition he entered with a season-best of 6-11. Williams swept the three jump events at the 2011 Washington 4A state meet.
Nothing is set in stone, and Williams will need time to rest up from the long fall, but Licari knows that "Kasen Williams absolutely would just be a huge addition to that group. All indications from Kasen were that he's really excited about doing track so we're just hoping that he still feels the same way.
One of the top point scorers on the entire track team was debating whether or not to return for a fifth season. But with the success of her junior year, Bakersfield native Taylor Nichols ultimately decided to invest another year in track and field, instantly bolstering the experience of the unit.
Nichols was the MPSF runner-up last year in the triple jump, with a mark of 40-7 ½ that ranks third on the Husky indoor top-10. She then posted another PR at Pac-10s, going 41-2 ½ for the No. 4 mark outdoors and a fifth-place finish.
But Nichols will be pushed by her teammate, junior Shaniae Lakes, who also scored at both conference meets last year (seventh in both) and actually out-jumped Nichols at West Prelims, where Lakes was 20th overall with the top-12 advancing to Des Moines. Lakes, who hails from Richland, Wash., also extended her PR last year to 41-3 ¼.
If both Nichols and Lakes can consistently push the 42-foot mark, they could contend for a Pac-12 title and a trip to NCAAs, while also targeting the school record of 41-7 ¼ that has stood for 17 years.
"Taylor's decision to stay for her last year of eligibility is great for this group," says Licari. "Shaniae and Taylor were right there neck and neck; they jumped in the mid-41 range. If they can improve by a foot or a foot and a half they can start to be considered as NCAA competitors and that is what they are shooting for."
Not to be overlooked is another Bakersfield, Calif. native, sophomore Alana Alexander. She is just a couple inches away from cracking the 40-foot mark for the first time and was 12th at the Pac-10 meet last year.
The long jump will be a bit of a committee operation this season. Jaleecia Roland served notice that she could help the cause at the intrasquad meet as she long jumped 18-9. Nichols, Lakes and Alexander will all long jump as well, along with heptathlete Sarah Schireman.
Says Licari, "All those women as far as long jump is concerned are 18-6, 18-8 jumpers, and to be a competitive conference person they need to really improve a foot or so, be a 19-6 type of girl to start to sniff a possibility of points. So they'll keep working at that. Hopefully a couple of those girls can take their long jumping to the next level."
Jeremy Taiwo dominated the Pac-10 Multi-Event Championships last year en route to claiming the first Pac-10 decathlon title for a Husky in 25 years. But Taiwo has alternated outstanding performances with some physical setbacks, and last spring ended with an elbow needing surgery which had forced Taiwo to throw javelin left-handed at NCAAs, costing him hundreds of points. Taiwo also had an operation on a lingering hip issue that had caused him pain for two years.
Still, the Renton native is the team captain for the entire men's jumps group, a testament to the respect he carries and the hard work he puts in. The three-time All-American will likely be out for the indoor season, and Licari says the outdoor season is "still up in the air" at this point but that Taiwo is on the road to a full recovery.
Should Taiwo not defend his Pac-12 title this year, the Huskies could look to freshmen Joseph Aubert and Chase Walker to pick up the slack though there's certainly no replacing an athlete of Taiwo's caliber.
The women return their two Pac-10 heptathlon competitors from a year ago, junior Jaleecia Roland is showing a ton of promise as well.
"Sarah's looking really good, Shelby's also training well," says Licari. Williams was solid in the open shot put and will continue to help there, while Sarah "is a good jumper and a good runner, but we're working on making her throws better."
In winning two events and placing second in a third at the intrasquad meet, Roland "showed signs of being a great multi-event athlete. She's a great jumper, has picked up the hurdles really quick, she's a strong girl so she can throw well." Right now Licari says her biggest area of need is in fitness and conditioning "in order to do some of the longer events on the track."
The first indoor multi-events will come in the Dempsey at the UW Invitational, so coaches and athletes won't have to wait long to see how things begin to shape up.