Jan. 13, 2011
They may be the fastest athletes on the track and field team, but patience and steady progress is required to build up any team, and third-year sprints coach Raul Sheen has done a tremendous job over the past two seasons with swelling the ranks of the Husky sprints crew, and consistently developing the talent already on hand. Washington saw a number of breakthrough performances last year in the sprints, hurdles, and relays, and as the indoor season is set to start, the Huskies are healthier, happier, and faster than they've been in a number of years.
Last season saw a number of highlights for Sheen's crew. Freshman James Alaka made the NCAA Outdoor Championships at both 100- and 200-meters, and was one of the fastest freshmen in the country. The London native also helped UW's 4x100-meter relay placed 15th at the NCAA West Prelims, after coming in seeded just 24th, with a group comprised of two freshmen and two sophomores. Junior Dominique Lauderdale also became the first Husky woman in the Pac-10 100m dash final in three years, and made West Prelims.
In the hurdles, senior Falesha Ankton crushed her PRs twice in her final two meets, reaching the NCAA Championships and earning All-America honors with a ninth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles, running 13.18 seconds. Freshman Shayne Moore scored in the 60m and 110m hurdles at both conference meets, and all four Husky relays scored at the Pac-10 meet.
One year later, Washington returns nearly every key contributor from 2010, save for Ankton who remains with the team in a volunteer assistant coaching capacity. Several more Dawgs are healthier than they've ever been and aiming for their best seasons yet, and talented newcomers on both the men's and women's side should fill critical gaps for Sheen, making this on paper his most well-rounded group yet.
With all the optimism, one tough blow to the group that should be acknowledged early on is the temporary loss of fifth-year senior Jeff Gudaitis, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer late in the fall. Gudaitis, a Tacoma native who qualified for the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 400-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay, is currently undergoing treatment and his outlook is positive, but certainly there is no timetable for his return as he takes care of his health first and foremost.
"Jeff had done a great job in his individual events last year coming off a foot injury, and he'd created a great base with his strength. Running into cancer this fall was pretty devastating, and it will be tough for him, but his surgery was successful and he'll go through treatment during the winter," says Sheen. "I think there's a chance that he could come back and help with the relays, but we'll take it day by day and wish him the best with his overall health before we worry about track issues."
If Gudaitis can make it back, he will be welcomed with open arms to an already solid men's group, headlined by Alaka. The freshman came to Seattle already with significant international experience, and turned in the best season by a UW short sprinter since Ja'Warren Hooker graduated in 2001. He clocked a wind-legal 10.32 in the 100-meters that ranks fifth in UW history.
According to Sheen, "James is definitely the leader of the group with all of his international experience. He comes in and shows what it takes to be great to the rest of the team on a daily basis from a preparation standpoint. His ability and willingness to go out and race any event is good for our group too. We'll be leaning on him heavily in all of his individual events, and ultimately both relays. We didn't use him much in the 4x4 last year but we will this year as health and ability allow."
Alaka was third in both 100- and 200-meter Pac-10 finals last year and has lofty goals for conference. "James said that he wants to be the last Pac-10 Champion and the first Pac-12 Champion, so that's a good goal for him," says Sheen.
Junior Ryan Hamilton also tasted some postseason success a year ago, qualifying for the NCAA Prelims in the 100-meter dash, and anchoring UW's 4x100-meter relay. The Vancouver, Wash. native is "really starting to come into top-form right now," says Sheen. "At this point it's just making sure that he's healthy; and he's done a great job increasing his strength in the weight room. A guy that can do what he does can become a factor in the Pac-10 finals."
The other half of UW's young 4x1 from a year ago returns in junior Sam Rucker and sophomore Colton Dunn. Rucker (Seabeck, Wash.) should contribute more in the quarter mile and Sheen looks for him to be a significant contributor again on both relays, while Dunn's individual focus should remain the 200-meters. Dunn (Brush Prairie, Wash.) looked much improved during UW's intrasquad meet in December, and Sheen verified as much.
"This fall has been great for Colton, as he struggled last year with the transition to college," says Sheen. "The main thing is that he's got great goals, and is ultra-competitive. He was pushing the limits last year, but by the end of the season he'd taken a little pressure off of himself and it really started to come together. At the Pac-10 Championships he ran a great (4x400m) anchor leg for us in the relay and I think that gave him some confidence headed into the offseason. I think he's ready to do some really impressive stuff this year."
In the hurdles, freshman Shayne Moore was a very pleasant surprise scorer at both the MPSF Championships and the Pac-10 Championships in the short hurdles. Out of Blaine, Wash., Moore went on to compete at the U.S. Junior Championships, taking 13th. He'll look to continue to sharpen his technique in year two, and Coach Sheen sees him as a mentor already for some UW freshmen.
"Shayne is a pit-bull with those hurdles in front of him. He's not the fastest guy, and maybe not the most technically proficient hurdler out there, but he's so aggressive that he can attack as well as anybody. He truly loves to hurdle and he's got a nice skill set for it," he says. "I think the early success in his career has him hungry to succeed. He's also been a good mentor for Howard Lao, who is a short-hurdler from the Portland area. He set the Oregon state meet record at 14.32 at last year's state championship. We can see that he might shape up to be a pretty good hurdler too."
Multi-event specialists Jeremy Taiwo and Andrew Ferleman should also help out in the short sprints. Taiwo actually had the best time on the team in the 110-meter hurdles last year, clocking 14.22 seconds which ranks eighth in school history. The talented Taiwo should also help a great deal on relays.
In the 400-meter hurdles, senior Miles Timpe (Enumclaw, Wash.) is back for another go-round. The veteran has three Pac-10 meets to his credit but is still looking to score for the first time. Sophomore Dan Sanders out of Redmond came on strong late in his freshman season and could surprise.
"Miles is a guy that ran good long-relay legs for us and has had some good experience in the Pac-10 Championships now, so we'll build on that," says Sheen. "Dan Sanders is a guy kind of like Shayne Moore, he came out and worked really hard last fall and got a little unlucky at indoor and got his foot all banged up. That set him back a little bit, otherwise I think he would have really surprised some people during the outdoor season. He's stayed healthy so far this fall and improved on his strength, so we're going to run him in some middle distance races indoors and hopefully that will set him up for a great outdoor season in the 400 hurdles."
Washington brings in four freshmen, including Lao, Matt Anthony, Ken Egu, and Maurice McNeal. Anthony was the top sprinter in Oregon the past two years, sweeping the 100- and 200-meter titles as a junior and a senior. McNeal won multiple Washington state titles for Tacoma-Baptist, and then moved to Federal Way, where he anchored the fastest 4x400-meter relay team in state history, running 3:15.26 to break a 28-year-old record. Egu (Concord, Calif.), who was a walk-on free safety on the football team this fall, was a 100-meter finalist at the California state meet in 2009 before skipping the 2010 season to rest an Achilles injury. The group instantly adds way more depth to UW's relay pools and all look to be loaded with potential.
On the women's side, Sheen's first group of sprinters is taking command of the group, and he's been impressed with how they have taken control as upperclassmen. Lauderdale, as the lone senior, has big goals for her final season, and juniors Bianca Greene and Jordan Carlson are healthy, fit, and motivated to be leaders on and off the track.
"Those three have done a great job of molding the freshmen, and they do it by example. I think there's a focus amongst that team that hasn't existed here in a while, if ever. We talked the other day about our relays, and I couldn't tell you the 4x100 team if I tried, we'd have to pull them out of the hat. In the 4x400 we could put two teams out there and be just as competitive as we have been. If everyone runs like they can we could break a school record this year."
Lauderdale (Bakersfield, Calif.) clocked the No. 4 100-meter time in school history last year with an 11.77 run, and then placed sixth in the Pac-10 final. Only one other Husky (Ashley Lodree) had run under 11.80 seconds in the past 20 years.
"She's really battled, and is the epitome of toughness," Sheen says of Lauderdale. "She kept a level head and it paid off later in the year by going to the Pac-10 finals in the 100 and winning the 200 in the WSU dual in terrible conditions. She continues to surprise us and herself, and now that she has a taste of those final competitions she's poised to do very well in her last year."
The only thing holding Greene back has been staying consistently healthy. A six-time state champion at Seattle's Garfield High, Greene went under 25-seconds in the 200-meters indoors last year, but if she can stay healthy, making Pac-10 finals should be her aspiration.
"Bianca's doing well. We were really smart with her in the fall, and she wants to be out there every day, so we have to pull the reins back a bit, but when you let her go she's ready. We took her to the edge last year, but she's healthier this year than she was at this point last year. I think he's still a great 200-meter runner that can move up to some 400-meter relays and down to some 100s as well."
Moving up to 400-meters, Sheen is looking forward to a big year from Carlson.
"Jordan is light-years ahead this year of where she was last year. It's her third year here and she's never had a full training period with us until now. I'm optimistic about it, and hope that we're not doing too much too soon, but we've learned some things together and figured out a training program that works for her. She's someone like Bianca that was more of a 100 and 200 meter girl and is now advancing to more of a true quarter-miler. Any day now she might leap into a University of Washington record in the 400 because she's that good. If she keeps healthy and confident she could easily be a Pac-10 finalist."
Back for their second seasons are Skye Atchley (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and Elaine Tran (Bellevue, Wash.), who should both contribute in the long hurdles. Issaquah's Johanna Carr had a busy freshman season but Sheen said it did not meet her expectations.
"Skye is another returner from Southern California who was a basketball player in high school. We've moved her in the same direction that we've moved Dan Sanders in a way in that we've pushed her to be more of a middle distance runner," says Sheen. "Johanna was a very successful high school athlete, and her transition to college didn't go the way she planned, so she put her mind to it and had a great summer of training and I couldn't be more proud of what she's done for herself. Her mental preparation and her attitude towards training have completely changed. She's somebody who now has a solid shot at both relays, and she'll also do much better in the 100 and 200 this year as well."
The Huskies have a big freshman class on the women's side; six prep standouts that bring a lot to the table in every event.
"We're really happy with our incoming freshman class, they've done a great job of adjusting to college track this fall, and I think the women's group with so many new faces has gelled with the older girls leading them. With that many coming in, they have formed into a nice unit. We're excited with what they can do as a group," Sheen says.
The top two hurdlers in the state of Washington will be decked out in purple this year. Kayla Stueckle, out of Puyallup's Emerald Ridge High School, is one of the top hurdlers in state history. Her best 300m hurdle time of 42.13 in 2009 was one of the fastest times in the nation, and she closed her senior year with 4A state titles in the 300m hurdles, 100m hurdles, and the long jump. The long hurdles have been a need for the Huskies for the past several years, and Stueckle looks to have the potential to carry that event and more for a number of years.
"Kayla Stueckle is a star," says Sheen. "She's arguably one of the finest Washington high school hurdlers in history. She comes in with a great vision and understands what it takes. She's driven and not intimidated at all. I couldn't be happier with the addition of Kayla."
Second only to Stueckle in the long hurdles at state was Tate Latimer out of Tahoma High. Unfortunately, Latimer is recovering from a pair of broken feet suffered over the summer, so Sheen lists her on "injured reserve" at least through the indoor season. Holy Names grad Michelle Fero ran under 57-seconds in the quarter mile during an excellent prep career, and Bonny Rivers (Santa Cruz, Calif.) could contribute early in the intermediate sprints while also working in the long jump. Cleveland native but Marysville-Pilchuck grad Alisha Oden was the 2008 Washington 4A runner-up at 400-meters, and also went to state in volleyball and basketball, and Shea O'Donnell was one of Washington's top short sprinters over the past three years, picking up a 4x100m state title for Skyline.