Season Preview: Distances
Jan. 11, 2013
Washington opens up the 2013 track season this Saturday, hosting the UW Indoor Preview at the Dempsey beginning at 8 a.m. The indoor season takes the Dawgs through early March, when they head outdoors and take the new outdoor track for a spin. Check in throughout the week to read up on what each event group has on tap in 2013.
SEATTLE - Hopefully the Husky distance runners made the most of their Decembers, because after the cross country season wrapped up in November, last month was a brief chance for the group to "focus on being college students for a couple of weeks," says Head Coach Greg Metcalf. But now it's right back to student-athlete mode, with a few hundred more miles to log on the road to conference and national championships.
The men's and women's cross country teams each walked away from the fall satisfied after weeks of hard effort, but both teams also had a sense of "so close". The men closed strong with a fifth-place finish at West Regionals, but learned they were essentially the last team to miss a spot at NCAAs in Louisville, although senior Joey Bywater advanced as an individual and ran well.
The women's group turned in a ninth-place performance in Louisville, a fifth top-10 finish in the past six years. But they've set the bar so high for themselves, with three recent podium finishes, that a ninth-place finish left them wanting more.
That's where the track season comes in. It's right back to competition for the distance crew. If things went well in the fall, the athletes can be excited about riding that wave through the spring. And if cross country season didn't go as planned, the long season offers a chance to bounce right back.
When a top-10 NCAA finish is frowned upon, things have gone well for your program of late. That's the case for the women's distance runners, who Coach Metcalf feels "missed an opportunity in Louisville."
"It was only disappointing because I know the women on this team are very talented," said Metcalf, "but already I'm fired up for track season, the ladies are recharging their collective batteries and watching them run for the first time after break I thought they looked good."
Last year, Katie Flood and Megan Goethals put up phenomenal cross country seasons and carried that through to two of the best track seasons in school history. Flood, in case this is the first UW track story you've ever read, had a storybook track season, anchoring the DMR to an NCAA title indoors after running some of the fastest time in NCAA history, and then she won the NCAA 1,500m title in Des Moines Iowa, in front of her hometown fans. She's currently nominated for Seattle Sports Star of the Year. Goethals, meanwhile, barely missed her own NCAA title, finishing second in the 5,000-meters in Iowa by a split second.
Those are two seasons that are hard to repeat, let alone top, and this past fall was tougher on both Flood and Goethals. Flood still led the Huskies most of the season, but was not quite her dominant self that UW fans had been accustomed to.
"You being an NCAA champion is something everyone wants to be, but most people don't wind up dealing with that pressure. I think that Katie would be the first to admit that the fall didn't turn out as well as she thought it would," says Metcalf. "But I think she is excited about getting to go back out on the track and about the coming year. We will kind of take it week by week by now and not look too far ahead but I think she looks good and full of run."
A stress fracture cost Goethals half of her fall season, and she didn't return to workouts until right before the Pac-12 Championships, which was her debut race. Despite all the missed time, Goethals still ran to a team-best 48th-place finish at NCAAs.
Goethals now heads into her junior season on an upward trend once again after overcoming the injury, and her coach says she is "back and fired up, she wants to be at the NCAA Indoor Championships and be a factor. She is probably as fit as anyone on our team right now." Expect a healthy Goethals to again be putting every ounce of effort into getting to the finish line first in the 5k this spring and looking to find that extra second that could get her a national title.
Everyone is expecting big things from Katie Flood and Megan Goethals, but Christine Babcock could join them Metcals says she is "as good as I have ever seen her."
The best fall season on the team very well might have belonged to a Husky that didn't make the trip to nationals. Only because fifth-year senior Christine Babcock had finished her cross country eligibility, and had to patiently wait for her final season of track, which is now at hand. But in two outings this fall, running unattached, all Babcock did was win the Sundodger Invite and take second at the Bill Dellinger Invite in Oregon.
Is Babcock all the way back? "Right now she is as good as I have ever seen her," says Metcalf. That's saying something. "She had a phenomenal fall period of training. She is happy and healthy and those two things make a lethal combination for her."
Recall that first 2008-09 season for Babcock, when the Irvine, Calif. native led the Huskies to the NCAA title in the fall, then led off the DMR indoors and went on to finish 11th in the 1,500-meter finals as just a freshman. Started by a dispiriting foot injury sucked months out of her career, Babcock lost two track seasons before coming back and enjoying a full fall and spring last year, her first since her freshman season. It was a very good season all things considered, as she placed 14th in the NCAA quarterfinals at 1,500-meters. But she was still short of where she once was, and that was tough.
"When you are an elite athlete, not running how you believe you are capable of running is a struggle. But she had just not done it in a long time; we talked about it and got through it and I think she is more appreciative of being healthy right now," Metcalf says. "She is the leader of our troops, and I could not be more excited about her progress and where she is headed in 2013."
Washington had a very consistent core top-five this past fall, with Flood and Goethals plus senior Lindsay Flanagan and juniors Justine Johnson and Liberty Miller. The latter three have had a lot of success on the track as well, but each are looking to make that next step to nationals indoors or out.
Flanagan had her best fall, and was the second Husky finisher at NCAA Cross Country, placing a career-best 74th. She missed last outdoor season after a run-in with some stairs went the wrong way, but two years ago Flanagan was fifth in the 10k at Pac-12s. She was also in range of indoor nationals in the 5k last year, running 16:14.92.
"Lindsay finished her cross country career as a tenacious and tough competitor, and now we have a couple track seasons left to roll with," says Metcalf, who sets a big goal for the Illinois native who earned All-Pac-12 Second Team in the fall. "I think she can meet her goal and run under 16 minutes and get to the NCAA championships."
I really think that Libby is one of those young ladies on our team that is poised for a breakout performance, weather that is indoors or outdoors, you can see it coming."Justine also looks very good," says Metcalf. "She left the NCAA championships like the whole team did, hoping for more, and I think that she and the group have worked out well together, and are ready to get after it." Johnson is a two-time Pac-12 finalist at 1,500-meters and ranks in the UW top-10 in four events indoors. Look for her to chase an NCAA Indoor bid in the mile or 3k.
Miller has steadily improved with seemingly every season, and she had her best cross country campaign in 2012, placing 25th at Pac-12s and at Regionals. Last spring, Miller had a great end to the track season, as she was 15th in the NCAA West Prelims in the 5k, just three spots short of making her first NCAA final site, which makes for a clear goal this year. "I really think that Libby is one of those young ladies on our team that is poised for a breakout performance, weather that is indoors or outdoors, you can see it coming."
A couple top Dawgs that have been big contributors but were out this fall, Eleanor Fulton and Chelsea Orr, are looking good but Metcalf says he is being conservative with both. Fulton ran the No. 2 steeplechase time in school history in her only run at it as a freshman last year, but bruised her heel in the process. She will likely redshirt indoors and "the focus for Eleanor is to get her to run fast in the middle distances outdoors. I'm excited to get her out there."
Similarly, Orr was a little banged up in the fall, and while she is the returning lead-off 1200-meter leg on UW's reigning DMR national title team, Metcalf hopes to "build a little more for the end of the season and make sure when we get to May and June that she is firing on all cylinders. She scored at the Pac-12 meet last year, and made the second round of NCAAs, but she's talented enough to get to the final site."
The depth on the women's team at the 1,500- and 5,000-meter distance is excellent as usual. Senior Kayla Evans had a fantastic comeback season this fall, and will look to build on that for her best track season. "Our goal for her is the outdoor season as well," Metcalf says. "We will be very patient and allow her to get back into training." Sophomore Anna Dailey, a Pac-12 competitor for the Dawgs in the fall, is in a similar spot as Evans, steadily building, as are Phoebe Merritt and Erin Johnson, who Metcalf says won't run indoors but are expected back when the Huskies head outside. Breanna Huschka, Megan Morgan, and Alison Ponce all return as well to contribute to the 5k/10k group.
In the steeplechase, Metcalf will be thrilled to bring back Mel Lawrence for one more go-round this spring. The multi-time All-American and former Pac-10 steeplechase record-holder has persevered through a number of hardships, and like Babcock, is hoping to end her career on a high note. "Mel is healthy and training and excited, and I am excited for her," says Metcalf. "Mel wouldn't come back if she wasn't purposeful in what she was attempting to do."
At the shorter distances, look for second-year athletes Baylee Mires and Joelle Amaral to play big roles indoors and out. Mires ran the 800m leg on the DMR at NCAAs last year, and would love to hand the baton off to Flood again this year. She also had the No. 6 time in school history indoors in the 800m. Amaral has shown nice range in two cross country seasons, and is looking strong heading into her first official track season after redshirting 2012.
"Joelle, her career has been centered on her success around one mile," says Metcalf. "And she is just starting to scratch the surface. I really think that Joelle is prepared to have a great and healthy season." Mires had some nagging injuries in the fall but had a great December of training, says Metcalf. "We will be patient with her, but she will still be an important piece of our DMR puzzle."
Chloe Curtis had a nice track season in 2012, getting progressively faster nearly every time out at 800-meters. She had an injury setback over the summer, however, and will be building back up this spring similar to last year. Juniors Laura Schmitt and Amy Before are also both on the mend.
Of the newcomers on the squad, Seattle's own Maddie Meyers got the big introduction to collegiate racing this fall, as she ran in UW's top-seven at every race, including her first NCAA meet. Metcalf thinks Meyers learned a lot from the fall and "A chance to be at the NCAA championships early in your career is great for development," he says. Meyers will likely run the U.S. Junior Cross Country Championships in February, and the American junior steeplechase record-holder should be back at that event in the spring.
Annie Moore, a transfer from Montana, and freshman C.J. Smith each have a lot of range and are looking good in workouts. "Annie is tough in practice and it will be fun to see what kind of competitor she is in races, and C.J. I think has great ability, tons of potential. She can run fast middle distances and may play with the steeplechase." Rounding out the freshman class are middle distance runners Pearl Terry and Brittany Bennett, who will both use this first season to develop.
With the start of the indoor track season, look for the top Dawgs from the fall to target their personal-bests in the Dempsey and take shots at NCAAs, but the majority of Washington's sizeable men's distance roster was patiently training through the fall and waiting for this month to start distinguishing itself. It will be exciting to watch the progress of crew that finished strong at Regionals in November, but also to see what runners from the next group make names for themselves on the track.
"Walking away from Louisville," says Metcalf, reviewing the end of the fall, "I thought Joey Bywater ran really well for a guy who in theory is a mid-distance athlete. For Joey to go run two 10k's in a nine day period, I thought he competed really well." Bywater was 69th at the NCAA meet in a field of near 250, after taking eighth at Regionals. "On the other side of that I really believe that our men were capable of being in the top 20, if we'd earned that last spot. So I think our men are excited about how the fall ended and the coming indoor season."
Joey Bywater battled to a top-70 finish at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships, and is a big piece of the puzzle on the track for the Dawgs.
Bywater has been one of the top mid-distance runners in the Pac-12 for the past few years, having made three Pac-12 finals at 1,500-meters. Last year he anchored the Husky distance medley relay to a school record and a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Indoor meet. But there is still much left for the Lake Stevens, Wash. native to achieve, if Bywater can avoid the minor bumps and bruises that have occasionally stood in his way.
Bywater's first thought after leaving Louisville was `I cannot wait for the track season' says Metcalf. "Joey would obviously like to run under the elusive 4-minute (mile) barrier. And hopefully significantly under that. I think when he gets rolling he can instill confidence in the rest of our group."
Another senior who pointed the way in the fall was Rob Wester Jr., who finished his cross country career with a personal-best 27th place finish at Regionals, second on the team to Bywater. Preaching patience for Webster, Metcalf says "The big goal for him is to be ready to compete from May 1st and beyond. The Dempsey is fun and we want to go race, but with Robby we have to be patient and you know maybe only race once or twice indoors." Having Webster at full strength would give UW a great boost at the 10k distance come championship season outdoors.
Also in the category of looking to continue on with cross country success are second year runners Aaron Nelson and Tyler King. The pair of Washingtonians impressed this fall as consistent top-five finishers. "I though both Aaron and Tyler had great cross country seasons and that has infused both of them with confidence. They could run anything from a mile to 3k indoors and maybe a 5k, and then outdoors they will run the 5k and I don't know if they will run 10k just yet, but those two guys, they are very talented and I am excited about what they can go and do for us."
A trio of veterans filled out the top-seven at most races this past fall. Aaron Beattie, Gareth Gilna, and Michael Miller all have a lot of range on the track as well, with Miller breaking 1:50 indoors last year in the 800m and then leading UW in the steeple outdoors, and Beattie stepping up to the 10k at Pac-12s last spring. Metcalf sees Gilna and Miller potentially filling the DMR spot that opened with the graduation of Ryan Soberanis.
"Gareth has been close to 8-minutes in the 3k and 4-minutes in the mile and continues to work very hard," says Metcalf. "He has a big race in there, we just have to work to get it out. Mikey had a great month of December, and he is purposeful in what he is attempting to do. And Beattie had another really solid cross season and the way that he races on the cross country course, we just put it on the track and he will go beat people. He'll run sparingly indoors and build for the 10k outdoors."
Both Aaron (Nelson) and Tyler (King) had great cross country seasons and that has infused both of them with confidence ... they are very talented and I am excited about what they can go and do for us.More distance depth will be provided by sophomore Taylor Carlson and redshirt freshman Angelo Comeaux, who both contributed this past fall, and junior Bryan Tibaduiza, who had his best ever cross country season following an injury-plagued couple of years. Carlson will look to try his hand at the mid-distances, said Metcalf, and all just need to be consistent and they will get their opportunities.
One big difference maker is junior James Cameron, who unfortunately suffered a back injury right before the start of the cross country season that kept him out of action. Back in 2011, Cameron broke the four-minute mile barrier at the UW Final Qualifier, and went on to place eighth at NCAA Indoors. Just getting him back in a race is the first step, but when healthy, the sky is the limit.
"James is making progress in training and doing workouts again," Metcalf says. "The big goal is to be at the NCAA Championships outdoors. That is the focus of where we are at right now with him. At the beginning of the fall he was in position to run in our top two or three for sure, and it was a bummer for our team to lose him, but he is getting back pretty quickly and training again. We just have to be patient and get him out there when he is ready."
The Huskies return a number of experienced half-milers as well, with Brad Whitley earning Second Team All-America honors last year as the 800-meter leg on UW's distance medley relay. Whitley has grown into a leader of the mid-distance group, says Metcalf, and had a great fall. Junior Kyle Blume is another returner looking to take the next step this season. "He can just chip away and hopefully make a Pac-12 final this year and beat some people," says Metcalf.
Sophomore Derrick Daigre is expected to redshirt the indoor season after receiving recent treatment on a tendon in his knee, but should be a factor outdoors. He had the fastest time on the team outdoors last year at 800-meters. "He is as gifted and talented a kid there is on our team, but we just need to get back doing workouts."
A big pack of young Dawgs will also be looking to get their feet under them this season. Freshmen Nick Harris, Blake Nelson, Mitchell Montgomery, and Hap Emmons are all expected to run indoors and then likely redshirt the outdoor season.
The top freshman track season last year out of the group was likely from Meron Simon, but the Federal Way native will be a likely indoor redshirt. he is just too talented to put on the track unless he is ready to run," says Metcalf. Tim Cummings, Taylor Hughes, and Chris Wozniak are on the sidelines for now, while redshirt freshmen Nick Schippers and Dylan Morin are gearing up more for the outdoor season.