SEATTLE - Last fall brought another top-10 NCAA Championship finish for the Husky women’s cross country team, the fifth in the past six years. But it is exactly that level of sustained success that made 2012’s ninth-place finish feel like a letdown. Washington has bigger goals, and wants to get to that podium at year’s end in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“This group walked away from Louisville last year and that ninth-place left a bad taste in their mouths,” says Head Coach Greg Metcalf. “I think that they’re used to going to national championships and running well, and last year for a variety of reasons it just didn’t go as well as we hoped.”
The good news is that in recent years, when the Huskies left one season unsatisfied, the following season finished with a trophy. In 2007, the team was left wanting more despite a then-program-best eighth-place finish, and in 2008 they captured the NCAA title with an undefeated season. In 2010, UW finished 16th, missing the top-10 for the only time since 2006, and came back the following year to place second at NCAAs, missing a championship by just eight points.
Metcalf confirms that “The goals are loftier than a year ago. I think that this group is very capable. I’m incredibly excited about them.”
The team is made up of several seniors looking to cap already excellent cross country careers with a flourish, and some very talented youngsters looking to step in and hold their own at the Pac-12 and NCAA Championship level.
One early setback for the team, unfortunately, is that junior Megan Goethals, an eight-time All-American in cross country and track, is expected to miss the fall with a stress fracture that was detected only this week. Goethals and her family had already been dealt a tough blow as her mother Diane has been battling breast cancer. With the injury, the plan is for Megan to take some more time at home with her family in Rochester, Michigan.
“Megan has been the best teammate in the world and one of the toughest runners I’ve ever seen, so for her to show up this week ready to go and then have this injury happen is incredibly disappointing for her,” said Metcalf. “But the one positive is that she will get to have some more time with her mother and her family.”
Even without Goethals, the Huskies still figure to have a lot of firepower, starting with Katie Flood, suddenly already a senior in cross country. Flood, the 2011 Pac-12 Champion who led the team to its second-place NCAA finish that year, is aiming to return to the shortlist of national contenders after redshirting the spring track season.
So far the signs are all positive for the 2012 NCAA 1,500-meter champion. “I looked at her the other day and said ‘How did you become a senior?’” said Metcalf. “But right now Katie is good as I’ve seen her. She’s happy and very fit and has just been a phenomenal leader early on in her senior campaign. I think our team has renewed energy because of where Katie is right now. She’s as talented as any woman we’ve ever had in the history of our women’s program. She’s excited and that makes the rest of us excited.”
Forming a bit of a leadership by committee alongside Flood will be fellow seniors Justine Johnson and Liberty Miller. Johnson is back for her fifth and final fall, with only cross country eligibility remaining. She’s had a remarkably consistent career, earning All-West Region honors each of the past three seasons and scoring at each of the past three NCAA Championships.
“Justine has had three great seasons and she has come back this year with great purpose,” Metcalf says. “As she rolls into the fall you can tell that she’s a veteran. She’s getting work done right now. As the leaves begin to change and we head to Boulder (for Pac-12s) and Sacramento (for Regionals), Justine will be at her very best. I’m excited about her putting an exclamation mark on her college career this fall.”
Miller has been another consistent presence in the Husky top-seven her entire career, and will look to build off a great track season to lead the pack this fall. Miller made a move to the steeplechase last spring, and advanced all the way to the NCAA semifinals in Eugene, earning All-America honorable mention.
“Last track season she ran great every weekend,” Metcalf says of Miller. “She ran last summer at the NCAA championships and didn’t make the final but now she has that experience. I expect her best fall ever out of her and she feels the same way. I think she’s done great stuff for us, but even better things are coming.
Metcalf gives a lot of credit to Miller for the cohesiveness of the team so far. “I think that she’s a wonderful teammate and has an infectious personality and she’s been awesome so far,” he says. “I’m excited to watch her run.”
Two more Huskies with NCAA Championships experience expected to be big factors this fall are junior Eleanor Fulton and sophomore Maddie Meyers. Fulton closed very strong on the track, just missing the NCAA final site in the 1,500-meters by one spot. Meyers, the local prep phenom, had a solid first season adjusting to the college level, but Metcalf thinks a breakthrough could be looming.
“Maddie is fantastic right now,” he says. “She is a different young woman than she was a year ago. I’m incredibly optimistic and excited about her potential for this season. Right now I think that she could run any time on our top five and that is saying something.
Fulton will get a chance to run in her home state for the first time in college as the Pac-12 meet heads to Colorado this fall. “Almost making it to the NCAA Championships, that gave Eleanor a lot of confidence. I think she’s more prepared than she has been any previous fall. I think that she’s still in the maturing process as an athlete, but from a talent standpoint she’s really good and I think that she’s one of the women on our team who we can expect marked improvement from.”
The team depth stretches to include several other returners including senior Breanna Huschka, juniors Megan Morgan, and Chelsea Orr, and sophomore Erin Johnson.
“Breanna is a grinder and has worked her tail off. She’s ready and excited for her last go-around this year. That’s the goal for Megan Morgan as well, she’s a great competitor and she’s someone you root for. Chelsea Orr is getting over a little foot issue, but hopefully she will be in the mix later in the season, and the same goes for Erin Johnson who is someone that has run in our top seven before and I think that as the fall progresses she will have a shot at our top ten. I’m excited to see her back in the mix.”
A few veterans expected to build towards the track season are Joelle Amaral, Anna Dailey, and Annie Moore, with sophomore C.J. Smith and Pearl Terry focusing on shorter distances on the track.
One mid-distance standout, however, who Metcalf calls a bit of an X-factor this season is Baylee Mires, the new school record-holder at 800-meters and an All-America honorable mention last spring. The Spokane native has not run a cross country race in college, but she ran great as a prep and could get a shot this fall.
“Baylee was at the NCAA Championships last track season and she is a young woman who will race sparingly, but when we decide to go all in with Baylee she’s dangerous, and will give us some depth at the end of the season.”
Coach Metcalf said of his men’s distance freshmen that it was the best class ever assembled in his time at Washington. With the outstanding talent that Metcalf has had on the women’s team over the past ten years, it would open up a lengthy debate to say the same on the women’s side, but if nothing else the UW class is one of the best in the nation once again.
Now the two friendly rivals get to team up, and push each other each day in practice.
“Amy-Eloise and Katie are as good a two freshmen as we’ve had, well, since Katie Flood and Megan Goethals showed up,” said Metcalf, thinking back to just three years ago. “Just from an emotional standpoint, they’re both very mature young women, they’re excited and very capable of handling all of this. They both have stood on the line of the World Cross Country Championships, and U.S. Championships, and British Championships, and all those big race experiences pay monster dividends as a freshman standing on the starting line. They will impact our team for sure.”
Also, says Metcalf, don’t count out Kaylee Flanagan from Roselle, Illinois. The younger sister of Lindsay Flanagan, who will be back for a fifth season of track in the spring, the coaches had an idea of what they were getting with Kaylee.
“Not to make all the comparisons to her sister, but like Lindsay, she is just a hard-nosed competitor and wants to do this and will do the work. She’s been awesome and we’re optimistic about what she can do for us this fall and beyond,” says Metcalf.
Rounding out the rookie class are Kelly Lawson from Cardiff, Calif., and local products Haley Suarez (Lynnwood), Sierra Espinal (BonneyLake), Josephine Bosserman (Seattle). The latter two are recent additions that will train for down the road.
Lawson, a three-time top-10 finisher at the California Div-II state cross country meet, “has a ton of potential,” says Metcalf, though she will likely redshirt this season. Suarez also has been a pleasant early surprise, and the coach thinks she can definitely impact the team at some point, whether it’s this fall or next remains to be seen.
“The vibe with this group is fantastic,” says Metcalf. “I think the women’s group has the most depth we’ve had in several years. Our goal is to get to the championships portion of our season healthy, full of run, with a shot to be the very best team we can be.”