SEATTLE - One tried and true adage for Coach Metcalf is that when it comes to running a 10,000-meter cross country race in November, the best teams go as their seniors go. But the 2013 Huskies “don’t have a lot of those,” says Metcalf, so they will be counting on some youngsters to get the team where it wants to go.
Out of 19 men on the roster, the Huskies do not have a senior among them, “But I still think this group should be standing on the starting line in Terre Haute in November with a chance to be as good as any team we’ve ever had,” Metcalf says.
Driving that optimism is a group of new Dawgs that Metcalf calls the best freshman class ever in his tenure. Add that to several key returners from a 2012 squad that came up just one spot short of a trip to nationals, and that lack of seniors might not be enough to hold this group back.
Last season after a fifth-place finish at West Regionals, when the numbers were crunched, it was determined that the Dawgs were most likely the 32nd team, with 31 making it to nationals. Joey Bywater advanced as an individual with an eighth-place regional finish, and placed 69th in the NCAA field. This season the team might not have that clear No. 1 identified going into the season, but looks to follow Bywater’s footsteps.
“Last year we were the first team out, but we still ended the fall with a good performance,” says Metcalf. “The goal remains to prepare and be ready to run in November, but we have to make sure we take care of business at the regular season meets on our schedule. I think this group has great potential.”
The Huskies may be hoping that youth will be served, but there are plenty of experienced runners looking to take the next step as well. Three of Washington’s top-five scorers from Pac-12s and West Regionals—Aaron Beattie, Aaron Nelson, and Tyler King—return to set the pace this fall.
King and Nelson both had top-25 finishes at Pac-12s last year, and Beattie has placed just a step outside the top-40 at each of the past two regional meets.
“Beattie has been here for four years, and he’s a guy who has run well consistently at 10k, and so he’s one of the guys we’ll depend on to go run in our top five. That’s a great place to start with one of your leaders.”
Tyler King set a big 5,000-meters PR on the track last spring of 14:00.58 and took 26th in the 5k at NCAA West Prelims, taking good momentum into the summer. “Tyler is someone who will continue to move into a leadership role, even though he’s only a sophomore. He has gone out and run in the top-25 at Pac-12s and continues to improve, so I’m excited about where Tyler is right now and what he does this fall for us,” Metcalf says.
Nelson is also coming off a strong track season, as he transitioned to the steeplechase and scored at the Pac-12 Championships with a seventh-place finish, qualifying for West Prelims. The Walla Walla native “went home and I think his goals have changed a little bit this year,” says Metcalf. “I think he has potential to be the biggest surprise on our team this fall. I think that he’s ready to have a breakout season.”
Also fitting into that group of young leaders is Meron Simon, looking strong after a redshirt season last year. Simon, the Federal Way product, had a 1,500m PR of 3:48.72 unattached at the Ken Shannon Invite as a sign of things to come, then had a great summer of training.
“Redshirting Meron last year was the right decision for sure,” said Metcalf. “By the end of the track season he was running great. He just needed more time to train, so he built some confidence in the spring, he went to Boulder during the summer to train at altitude, and he came back with great purpose. I’m excited to watch him go compete now that he has the training base.”
Metcalf and the Huskies will also hope for a successful return from James Cameron, the only current All-American on the roster from his mile finish in 2011. Cameron had a good summer of training, but missed a few weeks late in the summer with a minor injury. “James just got back to running Monday. But he’s a talented guy and is the goal is that as we get to the Wisconsin meet and Pac-12s, James is set to be on the starting line.”
Another group of returners are looking to put themselves in top-10 contention to earn a spot on the travel squad or the starting line at Pac-12s. Sophomore Tim Cummings, and redshirt freshmen Nick Harris, Mitchell Montgomery, and Blake Nelson will all be looking to continue their progression.
“I see Tim as a guy who adds depth and is still a work in progress, but right now he is as good as he’s ever been and that’s exciting,” says Metcalf. “Nick Harris had a solid track season as a redshirt and was a U.S. Junior finalist on the track at 1500 meters. The Pac-12 Championships are almost in his hometown (Niwot, Colo.) so I know he wants to earn a spot there.
“Blake Nelson had a very consistent track season and so far he’s looked great. He’ll be someone that makes the roster spots for the Pac-12 championships even more competitive. And then Mitch is a guy who had a tough freshman year and is still building. I think he’s another year away from really impacting, but he’s headed the right direction. I could say the same thing about all these guys, I’m excited to see how they continue to improve.”
That still leaves about half the team, comprised of eight freshmen and two sophomore transfers. Recent years have seen some of the best high school talent in Washington state history, and the Huskies tapped into that to assemble a dynamic group.
“There are more guys in this class who have run under 9:04 (for 3,200-meters) than we’ve had in the last ten years,” says Metcalf. In fact, Washington signed the top five finishers from the 2013 Washington 4A State Championships at 3,200-meters, with Andrew Gardner, Sumner Goodwin, Colby Gilbert, Jamie Coughlin, and Johnathan Stevens going one through five, and all running under 9:04.
To those five add 3A state champ Keith Williams and 1A state champ Ruben Riordan, plus A.J. Yarnall, who had the fifth-fastest time across all divisions at the California state cross country meet last year, and it’s certainly a well-credentialed group of young runners.
“They’re a great group, they’re a very cohesive group; they get along great,” says Metcalf. “They’ve all made a seamless transition into our team. Of course, I say all this having not watched them race yet, but it’s exciting. You look at it and say, ‘Wow! What will this group accomplish in four years?’”
Determining who and how many of the eight freshmen will don a uniform this fall and contribute to the lineup, and who will potentially redshirt will be a careful process. Heading into the Sundodger Invite, it looks like Gardner, the multiple-time Footlocker All-American and World Junior Cross Country competitor, will be the first to race attached.
“Andrew Gardner has a ton of talent and international experience. He’s eager and willing and capable of impacting our team right now so we’re going to run him,” says Metcalf. “Sumner or A.J. could be there too, but my feeling is we will redshirt much of the group. But we’ll go watch them run in the next two weeks and then really make a decision by mid-October. The goal with this group is that they build and they walk away after this year better than when they got here.”
Two more key additions came to Washington this fall from Portland, as former Washington high school standouts Jacob Smith and Izaic Yorks each made the move back to their home states after one year south. Smith was the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year last season, and was Portland’s No. 5 scorer at the NCAA Championships as he finished 149th overall. He won the 2011 Washington 4A cross country title for Wenatchee.
Metcalf expects Smith to jump right in to the lineup this fall. “Jacob had some success last fall and I think he has potential for even more,” he says. “I envision that he’ll be one of the guys contending for one of our top five spots. We recruited him out of high school and wanted him then but the way things worked out he got here a year late, but we’re very happy to have him.”
Yorks had one of the best prep careers in state history at Lakes, as he led the U.S. at 1,600-meters with a state record time of 4:04.00 en route to the 3A state title. He also ran for Team USA at the 2012 World Junior Track Championships, finishing 19th overall in the 1,500-meters. He has also had a lot of success in cross country, and ran a few races last fall at Portland, but this season the coaches plan to take it slow.
“We will see how it goes with Izaic. He’s one of the fastest one and two miler kids to come out of the state of Washington, so we’re excited about what he’s going to do on the track. In the fall we’ll mark his progress and decide what’s best. He had a bad ankle sprain so originally I didn’t think we’d have him at all this fall, but he’s looked great. I think he’s just scratched the surface and we’ll take it week by week and see what happens at the end of fall.”
If the young leadership on the squad can mesh with the many new faces, Coach Metcalf would be happy to admit that just this once, seniors aren’t always required to run well in November.