March 24, 2010
The sun is occasionally shining and temperatures are rising, so it's time for the Husky track and field squad to venture out from the controlled environment of the Dempsey Indoor and dive into the outdoor track season. That means new events, new venues, and this season, a new championship format that might take some getting used to.
The just-completed indoor season was highlighted by the first NCAA individual title for a Husky in three years, as junior Scott Roth soared to the win in the pole vault. Senior Katie Follett was the runner-up in the mile run, and Mel Lawrence and Colton Tully-Doyle were just outside the points in the women's 3k and men's 5k, respectively. All four will certainly be among the top performers for the Huskies heading outdoors, but they will be joined by a number of key additions that should help make the teams more well-rounded.
"We knew heading into the year that we would be a much stronger overall team during the outdoor season and that is what we have been keeping our focus on," said head coach Greg Metcalf. "What Scott, Katie, Colton, and Mel achieved indoors was great for our program but they are ready to head outside. We expect to add some firepower outdoors and now that the Dempsey season has ended it will be fun for our student-athletes to go travel together and gel as a team."
Two of Washington's top seniors, Anita Campbell and Falesha Ankton, both only had outdoor eligibility remaining so they were forced to compete unattached in the Dempsey and train through the winter months. Both will now be critical to the team's success outdoors. Campbell is the defending Pac-10 Champion at 10,000-meters, and was third in the event at last year's NCAA Championships. Ankton is UW's top hurdler, having scored at Pac-10s and reached the national meet in 2008. She set PRs in the short hurdles indoors running unattached and competed at the USA Indoor Championships in February.
The Huskies will also add a pair of All-Americans back into the fold, as javelin throwers Kyle Nielsen and Brooke Pighin get to let loose after watching their teammates compete all during the indoor season. Nielsen was sixth at NCAAs last season while Pighin was seventh, and both will be eyeing a higher spot on the NCAA podium this year.
Zack Midles will trade in the weight for the hammer which is much more suited to his skill set and the senior will be aiming for his first Pac-10 title this year and the NCAA final is certainly within reach after he took 13th at nationals a year ago. Elisa Bryant for the women was also an NCAA hammer throw participant last year but redshirted the indoor season due to injury. Whether or not she's ready to go is yet to be seen but if healthy she'll add major talent to both the hammer and discus events.
Outdoor track also brings the water pits back into play for the steeplechase, and that will be one of the most exciting events for the Huskies this year as sophomore Mel Lawrence is the top returning finisher from last year's NCAA Championships, where she took third and broke the Pac-10 record in the process. Lawrence was ranked as one of the Top-10 American women in the steeple last year, and will be one of the heavy favorites for the national title.
The multi-events tack on a few more challenges for both the men and women outdoors. Sophomore Jeremy Taiwo is coming back from an old foot injury from high school that cropped up again at the end of last year, but Taiwo looked strong indoors unattached and could be a major threat at NCAAs if he is able to go at one hundred percent. Taiwo was third in the decathlon at Pac-10s last year and qualified for the national meet but couldn't compete due to the foot issue.
Also sure to contribute is senior Kailey Campbell in the 1,500-meters and redshirt freshman Kendra Schaaf in the 5k. Campbell was an NCAA qualifier last year at 1,500m then had a breakout cross country season before redshirting indoors. She'll be on UW's first road trip to Stanford this coming weekend. Schaaf made her long-awaited track debut near the end of the indoor season and is still coming back from a minor stress reaction in her foot but the NCAA Cross Country Runner-Up has all the talent to run up front at NCAAs when ready.
Athletes, coaches, and fans will be dealing with a new format this year for NCAA Championships qualifying and competition. The old system with four regional sites sending five auto qualifiers apiece to the national meet has been tossed out.
This year, descending order lists will be the focal point, similar to the NCAA Indoor Championships, though for the outdoor meet there will be no set qualifying standard whatsoever. Hitting a certain mark will not actually guarantee anything, but will place an athlete on a massive region-wide descending order list. And this year there are just two "regions", West and East. Then based on set field sizes for each event, the top athletes in the west will head to Austin, Texas and the best in the east will meet at Greensboro, North Carolina for what are essentially the NCAA preliminary rounds. Athletes will need to qualify through those two large meets to move on to Eugene, Oregon and the final site of the NCAA Championships.
A race such as the 1,500-meters would have a field of 48 athletes in Austin and another 48 in Greensboro, and that would be whittled down with a preliminary and quarterfinal round to 12 athletes from each site for a final group of 24 that would make it to Eugene, where they would then run the semifinals and final. Relays will have 24 entries at each site rather than 48. The only event exempt from the new process is the multi-events, where those athletes will reach Eugene based purely on top score.
So to sum it all up, the Huskies won't be chasing Regional qualifying marks anymore, but will simply be trying to post their best marks possible and then hope that places them among the top-48 in the western half of the country so they can get to Austin and battle through the preliminary rounds.
After UW played such a gracious host in the winter, they get to impose on some other schools around the country during the outdoor season. Washington has made some tweaks to the schedule this year, though the first meet at the Stanford Invitational on March 26-27 is standard procedure and typically produces terrific times in the distance events.
From there Washington will send a group down to the Texas Relays where they will get to preview the facilities at Austin in advance of the new NCAA preliminary rounds. That meet runs from March 31-April 3.
After a brief hiatus, the Huskies will head back to Eugene for the Pepsi Team Invitational on April 10 where they will match up against a loaded field including Oregon, defending NCAA Champion Texas A&M, Missouri, and Illinois.
April 15-17 brings the usual Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., but the following week is a change from recent years as UW will partake in the Brutus Hamilton Invite hosted by California in Berkeley from April 22-24. The Pac-10 Championships are also in Berkeley this year so as you may have surmised by now, Washington will get an early preview of each of the three tracks that will host postseason championships later in the season.
The annual dual meet against Washington State sends the Huskies over to Pullman this year on May 1. One week later it's finally time for UW's one and only outdoor home meet, the Ken Shannon Invitational, on May 8 at Husky Stadium.
Then the ultimate goal is to be lining up at Oregon's Hayward Field from June 9-12 for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Washington has been targeting those dates since the start of the indoor season, and will plan to make a big impression on their rivals' home field.