SEATTLE - Washington kicks off the 2014 season this weekend with the annual UW Indoor Preview in the Dempsey, the first of five home indoor meets and the first chance to test where long months of training have brought the Husky track and field athletes. To preview the upcoming season, GoHuskies.com talked to some of the top returners in each event group, along with the event coaches. The jumpers get their turn, with Logan Miller talking about the pole vault, Kasen Covington tackling the horizontal jumps, A.J. Maricich the high jump, and Shelby Williams the multi-event group.
The diverse collection of Husky jumpers, vaulters, and multi-event athletes have made quite a mark over the past couple seasons. Miller, a three-time All-American who just has indoor eligibility remaining, is one of six returning vaulters who have made it to the NCAA West Prelims, and the Huskies are only looking to add to that number under assistant coach Pat Licari.
In the women’s vault, Kristina Owsinski took third at Pac-12s last year as a redshirt freshman, and Georgia Reynolds made it to NCAA Outdoors in 2012. Junior transfer Diamara Planell Cruz, a 13-foot vaulter with Junior World Championships experience, also joins the talented group. The men have three of the top returners in the Pac-12 as well, with 2012 Pac-12 Champion J.J. Juilfs, and sophomores Jax Thoirs and Chris Williams, both looking to make their first NCAA meet after strong freshman years. Williams was the Pac-12 runner-up last year, and Thoirs cleared 18-feet for the first time over the summer.
Covington won a milestone for the Husky jumpers last season as he captured the first Pac-12 triple jump title in school history. He heads into his senior year looking to defend that title and also make a first national meet. SeniorShaniaeLakes returns after a redshirt year caused by a hip injury. Lakes was a half-inch away from her own Pac-12 triple jump title in 2012, when she set the school record. She’ll try to regain that 43-foot form over the course of 2014. Also back from a redshirt season is Julian Bardwell, an NCAA West Prelims long jump qualifier, and Jaleecia Roland will also be a factor in the horizontal jumps, as she focuses on the high and triple jumps as opposed to the multi-event from previous seasons.
In the high jump, senior A.J. Maricich will be aiming to return to the NCAA Championships, which he reached in 2012 after a Pac-12 runner-up finish. Junior Chase Walker also earned his first trip to Pac-12s last year, placing 13th. Roland should anchor the women’s high jump and should have her best marks ahead of her. Several newcomers will also have a chance to prove themselves at the high jump pit early in the Dempsey season.
The loss of senior Jeremy Taiwo will be felt in just about every event area, and there’s no replacing a World Championships competitor, but the current Huskies will look to benefit from the example he set in practice to carry on the tradition. Senior Shelby Williams is back from an ankle injury that derailed her Pac-12 heptathlon effort last season, and she’s determined to rack up the points this season. Nick Pfeiffer, who redshirted last year, has the most experience on the men’s side, and the raw talent of some freshmen has the coaches excited.
GoHuskies.com: How did the fall training period turn out compared to previous years? Any different focuses or expectations?
Logan Miller: I think everyone on an individual basis has had one of the best falls that I’ve been around for. I think people have made crazy progress in their technique on the vault. And I think the freshmen were a really great addition, their vaults are looking great. Diamara (Planell Cruz) is going to be really strong. Kristina (Owsinski) came back ready to go and she looks great. We have a few older girls, Georgia and me, Klarissa, and Ashley. But I think from top to bottom, our vault group is looking really good. The guys look fantastic. We obviously know how Jax jumped at the intrasquad. J.J. is coming along really well and so is Chris. I think it’s going to be one of the best years our vault group has ever had.
Kasen Covington: It’s pretty much the same. I think Eric (Metcalf) kind of got us in shape before he really started focusing on our jump work just so we had a solid base there. But just some of the same things like paying attention to detail, and not having bad reps. It’s all about taking good reps, because you practice how you perform. So pretty much just harping on that.
Shelby Williams: It’s been awesome, we’ve been working really hard. Putting in a lot of effort, fall is our longest season. It’s hard because we don’t have any competitions, but we definitely push through it and now that indoor here, it’s exciting to see all of that hard work being put into play.
A.J. Maricich: It has been really good. We had Carson (Murray) and Cole (Jensen) who joined us and they are doing multis now, but it is still good to have a couple more people to train with. We just got Joe (Knight) last week, who just transferred from California [Pomona Pitzer]. He has been a lot of fun so far. We all get along with everyone really well and everyone has really good personalities and works hard. It’s all shaping up to lead to really good things. The one really good thing about this group is that they are really coachable, talented athletes.
GoHuskies.com: Where do you think your group could have the most success or see some improvement this season?
Logan Miller: You know, I think everyone does have higher expectations. I know the returners definitely do for the whole group and individually. It’s hard to know what the freshmen are thinking. I know a lot of them are redshirting. But I think everyone on our team sees the talent we have both guys and girls. The guy could have three to nationals easily. And I think the girls could have three to nationals too if we put it all together.
Kasen Covington: There are some possibilities for us to do some good things. I mean, Shaniae (Lakes) two years ago before her injury got second at Pac-12s. So she’s making her comeback this year. And everybody has pretty good potential to just break out this year. Jaleecia (Roland) is starting to figure some things out in the triple. Julian (Bardwell), who redshirted last year, is ready to make some noise. We all have this mentality, being part of the smallest group on the team, that we’re just going to come out and start making noise. Practice has been going good, Eric (Metcalf) is getting us in shape, and we’re all fast.
A.J. Maricich: I think Jaleecia (Roland) is looking really good both in the high jump and the triple jump. She is looking great and just having her do the jumps is great for us, and to just have a female leader that pumps everyone up. I’m looking forward to watching her go out and pop some big marks.
GoHuskies.com: Is the group excited to get things going this Saturday? What’s the vibe on the group on meet week?
Logan Miller: I’m excited, and I think everyone is ready to go. We’ve been vaulting since the first week we came back in September. I think everyone is excited to compete and see where we are at for the rest of the season. I know we vault with the bar in practice, but it’s hard to get a sense of where we are. So the first meet will give us an idea of everyone’s starting point, which is exciting but nerve wracking.
Kasen Covington: Yeah, definitely we’re excited. I don’t think there are many of us doing both jumps, he wants us to do either one or the other. And I think he is going to have us sprint too. So we are all still just working into our speed training. We’re not really expecting a lot, but we just want to go out there and put up actual marks. We don’t want to foul a whole lot. Just seeing where our fall training has taken us.
Shelby Williams: We’re stoked; it’s going to be crazy. Coming off of last season, just ready to go for it. We grew a lot last year and we are looking to continue that into this year.
A.J. Maricich: Very excited. I know Chase (Walker) is out with an injury right now, but I think the new guys are pretty stoked to show what they can do. Pretty nervous for the first meet, but we are looking forward to coming out and seeing what that opening mark is going to be and build up off of that.
GoHuskies.com: How are the new faces fitting in with the group so far?
Logan Miller: I think they handle it pretty well. I think it helped that there was a pretty big group of them. For me I know I was very intimidated. With the talent we have on our team now, coming in as a freshman would have been very intimidating this year. But there is a good group of them so that helped the process. They felt more comfortable. We all mesh really well now. The first couple of months they’re hesitant to talk, but we’re all kind of getting to know each other, and hopefully they’re learning stuff from us and we’re learning stuff from them as well.
Kasen Covington: We actually just have one. Kate (Adler) jumped with us a few times here and there but she’s also with the sprinters. But Thomas (Cheong) is fitting in well; he should do some good things here. He’s focused so that’s one of the biggest things right there. He shouldn’t have a problem. He’s still young with his form and training, and his track life is young. So spending a couple of years here getting a better feel for the program, he’ll do just fine.
Shelby Williams: The first couple weeks, we have three to four different practices in a day. There is so much technical stuff that goes with each thing you have to learn. So they’ve picked up on stuff really fast. It has been awesome seeing how much they’ve grown through just the ten weeks of fall. And coming off of winter break, it’s a huge break. It shows you who really worked hard and put in the time, and this group definitely has. I think we came back better than we did before winter break.
A.J. Maricich: They fit in really well. These guys are definitely here to prove their worth but they come in and are very coachable. They don’t act like they know everything. It’s been great to be around them. It still pushes you, but at the end of the day you still enjoy being around them. Cole and Carson are from Spokane like me so I am really proud of them for coming here and I’m excited to have them! Joe, even though I’ve only known him for a week, I already love the guy. They are all talented, but first and foremost they have great personalities that really add to the high jump bond.
GoHuskies.com (for Covington): Shaniae Lakes had her huge school record and then just had one meet after that before the injury hit. How tough will it be for her to get back to that form?
Kasen Covington: She had to come back kind of slow, there was a long time where doctors were telling her one thing and the next week it would be something different. But I think she’s been practicing well, and I think it will take her a few meets to get back to her old self, but definitely by outdoor season she’ll be back to her old form. Two years ago was also the year we only had Eric for half a season, so I think having him for a full year and having his guidance and some speed training, she’ll be all right.
GoHuskies.com (for Williams): Jeremy Taiwo was obviously breaking records and making national teams last year, how will his presence be missed?
Shelby Williams: There have been some tough shoes to fill that for sure. But we’ve definitely kept that mentality. We miss him and having him at practice. But he’s off doing his thing down in San Diego and we’re so happy for him. We’re just trying to keep what he got started here for us, and we want to keep continuing the tradition of strong multis here at UW.
GoHuskies.com (for Covington): How did winning the Pac-12 title last season affect your outlook heading into your senior year?
Kasen Covington: It definitely makes me a lot hungrier. Which sounds kind of crazy because I know I achieved a big goal I wanted to achieve while I was here but, I still feel like I didn’t do enough. I need to make it to the NCAAs, and I’m trying to be an All-American. So just knowing that I have that already, just makes me want to do better. I don’t want to feel satisfied with just a Pac-12 championship. This year’s goal is to definitely make NCAAs and to be an All-American. I have a target on my back, but that will just make competitions that much better and it will make it awesome.
GoHuskies.com (for Williams): Personally, what are you looking to do heading into your senior season?
Shelby Williams: I really just want to place for this team at Pac-12s. That was my goal last year and it didn’t exactly turn out the way I had planned. But I recovered (from an ankle injury) over the summer and through the fall came back feeling way better than I did at the end of last year, which is awesome.