Oct. 15, 2009
By Joe Darda
In 2004, Mukilteo's Kelly Spady surprised many by winning the 4A cross country championships, beating out two heavily favored runners from eastern Washington. This did not, however, surprise Spady. He expected to win, even if it meant closing a 40-meter gap in the last quarter-mile.
Five years later, little has changed.
A fifth-year senior on Washington's 14th-ranked cross country team, Spady is still winning races and is still an altogether warlike competitor on the course. But considering this is his last go at running with a true team, he is hoping for much more than individual titles.
Spady, an Environmental Science major, opened his senior campaign with a pair of team-leading performances, including a win at the Washington-hosted Sundodger Invitational. But Spady was less fired up about his individual win than what he saw streaming in behind him: a whole lot of purple jerseys.
"It was nice getting the win, but I was more excited to see our team running so well," he says of the season opener. "Seeing guys like Colton [Tully-Doyle] and Max [O'Donoghue-McDonald] up front and the depth of our group made me realize, holy crap, our team's great!"
The Husky men have indeed impressed this season. After winning Sundodger by a 60-point margin, Washington traveled to South Bend for the Notre Dame Invitational, where they took down seven top-30 programs en route to a first-place trophy. Spady finished ninth overall in the loaded field and was again followed closely by a wave of teammates. Twenty-one seconds after Spady crossed the line, four more Huskies had joined him, an exceptionally close spread among the five finishers that account for a team's point total.
"Our top five guys are all interchangeable this year," Spady says. "There's no number one. I could have a great race and be our number five guy. That's a pretty exciting team to be on."
Although his senior year has thus far gone smoothly, Spady's college career has not exactly been sweetness and light. Plagued by injuries since high school, Spady is forced to be patient in training, something that does not come naturally to the determined 22-year-old.
"Kelly Spady is a fiery individual and at times he has a hard time being patient," Washington head coach Greg Metcalf says. "With Kelly, it's a matter of knowing when to say when. He can get a bit too fired up and competitive in workouts, but I think most great athletes share that characteristic."
Over his four years on Montlake, Spady has had a number of injury-related setbacks as well as a string of breakthroughs, repeatedly offering glimpses of the immense talent he showed as an--even then--injury-prone prep champ. As a sophomore, he ran in UW's top three in every race, including a team-leading 31st-place finish at Regionals. The following year, after battling injuries through the late spring and summer, Spady was a key postseason contributor, helping the Washington men to an 18th-place showing at his first NCAA Championships. In 2009, despite an up and down track season, Spady has once again emerged to lead the Huskies in cross country.
This time, though, he has experience on his side. "This is my last season, my last go," he says. "I have another year of experience now and I understand the process."
This is likewise true of fellow seniors Colton Tully-Doyle and Jake Schmitt, who were on Spady's heels in South Bend and will factor largely in Washington's postseason plans. Having a group of veteran runners up front, Spady says, has been intrinsic the early-season success of he and his team: "I've been running with these guys for a long time and that adds confidence. They've been through the same things I have and they know what they're doing," he says of Tully-Doyle and Schmitt. "We're an older team this year and I think that will make a difference at the end of the season. We've been there before."
Schmitt, a consistent team front-runner over the past three years, has watched Spady alternately struggle and excel during their time as teammates. He is, however, encouraged by Spady's recent progress and the contribution he has been able to make this season. "Kelly is one of the most determined and headstrong athletes on our team," Schmitt says. "Since day one freshman year, he's had a clear goal of what he wants to achieve. He took an interesting route getting there, but he's made huge progress this year and he's right where you want to be as a fifth-year senior."
Spady, Schmitt, and Tully-Doyle were all a part of last year's 18th-place effort at nationals, where they were very much a minor attraction next to the force that was and is the No. 1 Washington women's team. But, as Schmitt puts it, "success breeds success," and perhaps some of the women's energy has rubbed off on the emerging men's squad.
"We're a combined program," Metcalf says, "so I think it was cool for the guys to see what the girls did and how they operated last year. I think it inspired them a little bit and made them say, `hey, maybe we're selling ourselves short.'"
This is certainly the line of thought upon which Spady is operating. After arriving back from last year's national meet to applause for another team, Spady hopes this fall will be a different story. "If we all have great days on November 24th, I think a team trophy isn't out of reach," he says. "It would be pretty cool to get off the bus from nationals with not one, but two trophies." It certainly would not surprise him.