Season Preview: Distances
Jan. 12, 2012
The 2012 track and field season begins in a big way on January 14, as Washington hosts the UW Indoor Preview in the Dempsey Indoor. From there the Dawgs will compete through the NCAA Indoor Championships in March and then quickly switch to the outdoor season, continuing on until June. GoHuskies.com will take a look at what each unit has in store for the season ahead.
The fall ended with the women's group proving its elite status once again with a second-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana on November 21. It was the third trip up to the podium to collect a team trophy in the past four years for the Huskies, who will look to carry that big surge of momentum onto the track.
The beauty of track is that Washington can now really show off its depth. Rather than just seven women lining up at the cross country championships, now everyone on the squad can see how they measure up. And Coach Metcalf thinks that the depth on the women's side is as good as he's seen it.
"Our women's group I feel like we have some exciting months ahead of us," says Metcalf. "This is a deep and talented group that has a fire lit under it again from the fall."
Leading the way at nationals in November were sophomores Katie Flood and Megan Goethals. Flood was dynamic all fall, leading UW in each race she entered, and capturing the first ever Pac-12 cross country title. She capped it off with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA meet. Goethals had a slower start but hit her stride in the postseason and gutted out an 18th-place finish at NCAAs, with her and Flood both earning All-America honors.
Both are fit, healthy, and ready to run very fast on the track. The NCAA season is a long one to begin with but this year Metcalf is thinking even beyond the outdoor championships in early June. "Running outdoors will be very fun for those two this year," he says. "If we do our job and they make progress, then they'll be at the NCAA Championships and hopefully be standing on the starting line of the U.S. Olympic trials at the end of June."
Flood and Goethals each made the NCAA Indoor field in the 3,000-meters last year, then outdoors Flood focused on the 1,500m and Goethals ran the 5k. Both again advanced to the NCAA Outdoor final site in Flood's hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and Goethals had the best finish by a Husky woman, placing sixth in the 5,000m final.
"I think indoors they'll run an appropriate amount. Katie may run a mile or 3k to shoot for NCAA Indoors. Megan, we have to decide still. I think she will run a 3k and a 5k indoors and we'll see from there," says Metcalf. "But I'm just excited for what they're doing right now and I think they're prepared to have great indoor and outdoor track seasons."
This winter and spring should see the long-awaited return of a fully healthy Christine Babcock to the track. And Metcalf was especially happy to note that Babcock recently went through a workout with close friend and teammate Mel Lawrence, herself coming back from an injury-plagued 2011.
"Our distance world seems complete with Christine and Mel training together," says Metcalf. "It's fun to have those two affecting practice on a daily basis. They have both been All-Americans and have experienced everything. It takes some pressure off of Katie Flood and Megan Goethals."
Babcock was the third Husky finisher at the NCAA cross country meet, in 62nd-place overall, ending her cross country career with team trophies for first, second, and third. But Babcock, an All-American in the DMR and an NCAA finalist at 1,500-meters in 2009, still has two years of eligibility on the track and wants to get back to racing in circles.
"I think the cross season was really good for Christine to get that elite mentality back," Metcalf says. "The fall for her was as much about `team' as anything else. Now the track season is about what she can go out and do individually. The indoor season will be a great stepping stone for outdoor. We won't put too much emphasis on indoors but it will be big for her to just get back on the track and once she gets a couple of races in, I think she's capable of anything at 800- and 1500-meters."
Lawrence, a five-time All-American, has just this final track season left in her historic Husky career. The Reno, Nevada native has had to deal with stress injuries over the last year, but has logged consistent training over the past several months and slowly but surely returning to form. The Pac-12 steeplechase record-holder will certainly be looking to attack the barriers again this spring.
Metcalf says that Lawrence will be very limited indoors, running maybe one race at the most "and the big goal with Mel is to be at her best from the end of April until July 1st. So we're going to be patient but she's making progress weekly."
Junior Justine Johnson has put together two very impressive track seasons so far, but coming off her best cross country season, as UW's fourth finisher at nationals, the Victoria, B.C. native could be primed to post some PRs. Johnson was a Pac-10 finalist at 1,500-meters last year and finished 18th in the West Prelims, six spots away from a trip to NCAA Outdoors. "Justine has done a great job taking care of herself and she has matured quite a bit," says Metcalf. "I think that she is ready and can be a part of the NCAA Indoor meet. Outdoors the goal is to make the Pac-12 final again but now and go on and be great and then see if she can navigate her way to the NCAA Championships."
Also looking to break through to the NCAA Outdoor meet is junior Lindsay Flanagan, who, like Johnson, was 18th at West Prelims a year ago in the 10,000-meters. Flanagan also had her best fall yet, earning All-West Region honors and rounding out UW's scoring five at nationals. There's no denying the fact that "her goal is to get to NCAAs at the 10k," says Metcalf. "We'll run indoors of course but the goal is to run one 10k at Stanford for the qualifier and then be ready for the Prelims at the end of the year. Stay steady and she will make progress."
The surprise of the indoor season last year was freshman Chelsea Orr, but her year was cut short by a stress fracture. However, Orr came back to run this fall and made a contribution and Metcalf thinks "right now she comes into 2012 with a renewed spirit and she's fired up. Our goal for her is to keep her healthy and get her to the end of the track season and good things will come."
Liberty Miller has now run two more NCAA Cross Country Championship meets than track meets, but that should change this indoor season. Miller was the seventh Husky finisher in Terre Haute this fall and is set to make her track debut after redshirting in 2011. The Simi Valley, California native has been on a fine line health-wise. "At the NCAA Championship she was probably running at 75% and she went out and ran solid there. She's working things out and we're glad to see Libby's debut on the track. She'll be more of a 5k and 10k gal who definitely adds some depth to our Pac-12 group this spring."
Sophomore Phoebe Merritt, like Chelsea Orr, had a big indoor season last year but did not compete outdoors. Now Merritt is coming back from a fall foot injury and the seasons may be reversed. "She probably won't run indoors," says Metcalf. "At the beginning of the fall, I always thought she was in our top-five. So she's very capable. She ran 16:34 last year that's fifth on our indoor 5k list, so I think she's capable of impacting outdoors and I think she's another reason why our women have fantastic depth."
The depth doesn't stop there, as there are several second year Huskies that could also be poised for their best seasons. "Mackenzie Carter redshirted in the fall and I think she is a great competitor. She can run anything from the 800 to the steeple. Megan Morgan was looking good this fall but got a little banged up, and her goal is to start training again and she's not that far off. She's a redshirt freshman so we won't rush things with her and I expect her to help us at the longer distances. And Chloe Curtis is in the same boat as someone who's a few weeks away from racing but is full of potential and we hope she's in a jersey soon."
In the mid-distances, former Pac-10 800-meter finalist Nikki Codd has battled back from hip issues and is looking to have a strong senior season. Junior Laura Schmitt has conference experience after finishing 11th in the 800m a year ago, and Amy Before and Christine Sonners will aim to make a run at a spot at the conference meet themselves.
"We hope to have Nikki ready for the outdoor track season. She's also a senior and a Pac-10 finalist so we'd love to see her be a Pac-12 finalist," says Metcalf. "Laura has made some progress since last year and getting under the 2:10 mark would be a big first step for her."
Also back training with the group is Alison Ponce, who had a nice 5k PR last year. Kayla Evans and Grace Green have had strong showings with the cross country team in the past, and Breanna Huschka is a former Pac-10 10k competitor but has not run on the track since 2010. "That group all has the same goal of staying healthy and just make day by day improvements and we'd like to have them help us," says Metcalf.
The new faces on the women's roster are an eclectic and very talented bunch that could all make immediate impressions.
Eleanor Fulton from Lone Tree, Colorado stepped in this fall to run in the top-seven at every race, including a 21st-place finish at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships and a 130th-place effort at nationals as UW's No. 6 finisher. Fulton had an outstanding prep career on the track, placing second in the 2011 Jim Ryun Dream Mile and also making the Junior World Championships in the steeplechase.
Metcalf expects the versatile Fulton to be going full speed indoors. "I think she can run any distance on the track, and she could get to the national meet indoors. I think she's capable of running the 800 or the mile for sure. We may see how the steeple goes outside, but I think she will keep definitely keep running the middle distances."
Freshmen Joelle Amaral and Baylee Mires will further bolster the mid-distance group. Amaral, who came west from New Jersey, ran a 4:49 mile indoors last year to take second at New Balance Nationals and looked strong this fall over longer distances as well. Mires racked up seven Washington 4A state titles including three straight 800-meter titles from 2009-11, and the Spokane native was a big get for the Dawgs.
"Joelle Amaral and Baylee Mires are full of potential and will be great to have in the mix for relays right away. They will be doing a 4x800 meter relay this weekend but the sky is the limit for how good they can be," says Metcalf.
Two more local newcomers round out the long list of distance talent. Shoreline's Erin Johnson was a big surprise in the fall, earning her way onto the Pac-12 Championship starting line after walking on. And Garfield High grad Anna Dailey, the 2009-10 Washington state cross country and 3,200-meter champion, will be eligible for the outdoor season after transferring to UW from Stanford a year ago.
"Erin made some noise this fall," says Metcalf. "She has improved exponentially from her senior year in high school. Our goal is just to keep Erin healthy and keep going. As for Anna, she's running and making progress. Finally being able to put a jersey on makes things that much more real and exciting for her. She's had a chronic hamstring issue so we're working through that but it's been a long wait for her and she's done a great job."
The Huskies have a small army of men's distance runners in the mix this winter and spring. Of the thirty men on the roster, some are in fighting trim and ready to duke it out on the conference and national level. But many of the massive group are young--nearly half of the team are true freshmen--and will need to make it through basic training before they have a big impact.
The size of the pack is impressive, and watching which athletes distinguish themselves and lead the group will be exciting for Coach Metcalf.
"Our men have a lot of energy and you can't help but imagine the possibilities once the younger group starts to mature and figure things out and put it all together," says Metcalf. "But we also have some great veteran guys who want to set the bar high and accomplish some very big goals this spring."
"Charlie Williams has done a great job leading our middle distance group in the fall." Metcalf says Williams could make a big leap in his final season but "it's not just about racing, it's the leadership every day in practice. I think he has done a great job to put himself in the position, whether it's in the DMR or in the Mile, where he really has chance to get to the national championships" which would be a first for the Gig Harbor native. "He really wants to go out with a bang."
Bywater was the leader this fall for the Husky men on the cross country course, including a career-best 16th-place finish at the Pac-12 meet. That has carried over onto the track and has the Lake Stevens native also thinking about reaching his first NCAA meet.
After placing 19th in the West Prelims last year at 1,500-meters, "I think Joey is ready to have a breakout season," says Metcalf. "He is coming off of his best cross country season ever. That bodes well for his success on the track. I would love him to get to the national championships on the DMR and in the open mile or 3k. He ran a four-flat mile last year and could be the next guy under that mark."
Aside from Bywater, the Huskies return three more men who qualified for the NCAA first rounds a year ago in senior Max O'Donoghue-McDonald, junior Michael Miller, and sophomore Gareth Gilna. O'Donoghue-McDonald, always a team leader in his own right, is recovering from a knee procedure and will not be suiting up until the outdoor season, but he will be looking to get back to West Prelims for a third straight year in the 5k. Miller scored for the Dawgs in the Pac-10 steeplechase final a year ago, while Gilna is one of the most versatile Huskies and had a very good cross country season this fall.
"Gareth is one of our guys who has aspirations to run a four-minute mile and I think he is close. I think Gareth has made lots of progress and is excited to get back to the track and he could run anything between 800 and 5k. Michael Miller has been a bit up and down, but he is a talented young man." Metcalf thinks Miller can be valuable on the DMR and drop his mile PR indoors, "but ultimately the big goal is to get to outdoors and keep building on the momentum he developed last year running the steeple. He liked the event, he scored well, the challenge for him is to just stay healthy and continue to build."
Two more key members of the cross country team this fall should be counted on to log the long distances on the track. Sophomore Aaron Beattie was a surprise leader for the cross team at NCAA Regionals over 10,000-meters, and junior Rob Webster Jr. was right behind Beattie, second on the squad as both ran in the top-50.
"Robby ran 14:05 indoors last year and I think he is really capable of running much faster," says Metcalf, "but he'll be our main guy in the 10k outside. "Beattie is still a relative youngster who will really get his feet wet racing competitively at 5k and with all our younger group it's about trying to stay healthy and progressing his career. Taylor Carlson is another kid in that category of making progress in the fall and helping us out in the longer distances."
Washington had six different men run under 1:52 over 800-meters last year, but only Gilna broke 1:50 outdoors. Five of those six return and all are looking capable of shaving seconds off their personal-bests.
Senior Ryan Soberanis has been a very consistent contributor over the years but still could have a breakout year on tap. "I really think he is one of those guys who has the ability to be a sub-4-minute miler, and five years ago you would have never guessed that," Metcalf says. "(Sophomore) Brad Whitley has also really made great progress, and I think he could run under 1:50 and attack four-minutes, and he has only really run one 1,500 in his career. And (sophomore) Kyle Blume is stronger this year as well after he ran 1:51 last year.
"Really this group of 800-meter guys has tremendous depth," says Metcalf. And UW will hope to add to that with the long-awaited debut of redshirt freshman Sean Krinik, who was the top prep 800-meter runner in the nation in 2010 but has battled the injury bug. "Sean is close; he is relatively healthy. He may make his debut this weekend but he has never run indoor track so we will take things slow. But he is as gifted and talented as anyone and our staff is excited to get him in there."
As is the nature of the sport, especially with a roster of thirty, there are some expected casualties this spring, the toughest being junior James Cameron. An All-American in the mile run last year, who clocked a brilliant 3:58 mile at the UW Final Qualifier, Cameron is still on the mend from ankle surgery after a bad landing in the steeplechase. He could be in competition shape outdoors, but has yet to redshirt a track season and Metcalf says, "We are going to make the right decision, if that means he could end up redshirting the entire year, with the hope he could still appear at the Olympic trials."
Senior Cameron Quackenbush has also been up and down with illness and will hope to come back and end on a high note. Sophomore Bryan Tibaduiza is someone Metcalf still has high hopes for as well, despite injury setbacks. "I've always believed in him," he says. "He needs some good fortune to come his way. I think he has had a good fall and a good winter break; two weeks into our season he looks strong. He just needs to get his career jumpstarted."
And then there is that freshman class chomping at the bit. Thirteen true freshmen populate the roster. Metcalf hopes that the class will be a foundation for several years down the road, but for the moment don't expect to see all thirteen lining up at the Pac-12 Championships in year one.
"For most of them we will be patient and try to protect them," Metcalf says. "That freshman group really needs to mature and get through training and life as a college student to be better next year. They are a talented group but their plans are more towards building for the future than right now."
That being said, there are a few new Huskies that will be ready to go starting this indoor season. Three freshmen lined up for the cross country team in the fall, and those three--Aaron Nelson, Meron Simon, and Dylan Morin--will likely compete attached on the track as well. Nelson, out of Walla Walla, and Simon from Federal Way both ran at the Pac-12 meet this fall, and Nelson was one of the top freshmen in the conference and scored for the Huskies at every meet. Tyler King of Coupeville was also planning to run in the fall before an ankle sprain right before the season opener, and Metcalf sees him as a contributor sooner than later.
"Those four, Aaron, Meron, Tyler, and Dylan, could all potentially run at Pac-12s this year," says Metcalf. "They have been consistent and impressive since day one." While those four all project to the longer distances, the other freshman that could make a big splash is half-miler Derrick Daigre, who made the U.S. Junior Pan-Am team at 800-meters after a PR of 1:50.05 to take second at the 2011 U.S. Junior Championships.
"Derrick is one of a few freshmen on our whole team who I think has the ability to get to the big meet on our schedule. I am really excited to see what he does on the track."