Since coming to Washington eight years ago, Kelly Strong has helped to assemble and mold the Husky women's distance group into one of the best in the nation, epitomized by the women's cross country team winning the program's first NCAA Championship in the fall of 2008.
Strong, formerly Kelly MacDonald, is heavily involved in day-to-day operations and recruiting, and works directly with the women's distance runners along with head coach Greg Metcalf.
The past few years have seen the women's distance program rise to unparalleled heights to rank among the best in the nation. Four Huskies ended the 2008 track season at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and that success carried over into the cross country season. The women, ranked third in the preseason, quickly assumed the No. 1 ranking and then steamrolled to the NCAA Championship.
On their way to the title, the women made history by recording a perfect score at the Pac-10 Championships, the first in conference history. Washington swept the top six spots, on the home course of the second-ranked Oregon Ducks, no less, and snapped Stanford's 12-year reign.
The Huskies' incomparable depth was in evidence at the national meet, as five Huskies earned All-American honors (Christine Babcock, Kendra Schaaf, Mel Lawrence, Katie Follett, and Amanda Miller), and the entire top-seven placed in the top-51.
Washington's depth is a testament to Strong's reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters. Freshmen stars Kendra Schaaf and Christine Babcock led the team at NCAA's, with Schaaf winning Pac-10 Athlete of the Year honors and Babcock getting Newcomer of the Year. The duo, the only freshmen All-Americans in the nation, are the latest of Strong's signees that have raised the talent level at UW immensely. Her first group of women's distance signees was ranked sixth in the nation by Track and Field News, and included 2006 NCAA 1500-meter Champion and two-time All-American Amy Lia. Strong's latest recruits for 2009 include Footlocker All-American Lindsay Flanagan, the only prep to place in the Top-10 at both Footlocker and Nike Team Nationals in 2008.
The momentum from the cross country title spilled over onto the track as Washington qualified five distance runners for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, more than any school. Lawrence set the Pac-10 record in the 3,000m steeplechase, placing third at NCAA's in 9:40.98, and was named 2009 Pac-10 Track Newcomer of the Year. Anita Campbell also took third in the NCAA 10k final, while Babcock and Follett made the finals at 1500m and 5000m, respectively. Eight different Huskies qualified for Regionals in at least one event.
The groundwork for the team's national title was laid the previous fall in 2007, as the Huskies placed eighth at the NCAA Championships, then a new program high. That season, Follett and Campbell earned All-American honors with Top-20 finishes. That marked the first time UW had multiple All-Americans in the same season, and were the first for the program since 2001. Of course, the 2008 team essentially threw out the record book with five All-Americans, with Follett a repeat winner.
The 2008 track season was filled with more milestones for Strong's group. Follett, Amanda Miller, and Michelle Turner all earned All-America honors in the mile at the NCAA Indoor meet, the only school to have three All-Americans in the same event. Follett broke three indoor school records, and went on to win the Pac-10 Championship at 1500-meters. Turner then won the 1500m West Regional title, and Miller capped off her track career with an 11th-place finish in the 1500m at NCAA Outdoors, earning her fourth All-America honor. The trio then capped off their seasons competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials, all in the 1500m.
All told, 23 All-America awards have been claimed by UW women under Strong's watch in her first seven years, and the cross country program has reached NCAA's in five of the past seven years under the combined tutelage of Strong and Metcalf, with a national title now to their credit. Since 2003 on the track, the women have earned one All-American award at 800-meters, four at 1500-meters including Lia's NCAA title, five in the mile, one at 3,000-meters, one in the steeplechase, one at 10,000-meters, and one in the distance medley relay.
For many years Strong was also one of the top-ranked American steeplechasers. She was ranked in the Top-10 by Track and Field News as recently as 2008, and competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials but was hampered by injury. Strong also placed fifth in the event at the 2004 Olympic Trials.
A 2002 graduate of Arizona State, Strong earned five All-America honors and three Pac-10 titles during her collegiate career, and she set five school records. She also set the American record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase (6:25.98), and ranked seventh in U.S. history in the 3,000-meter steeple (9:47.68).
She was recognized in 2002 with ASU's Pac-10 Medal, and was ASU's Athlete of the Year in 2001-02. Strong and her husband, former ASU All-American Brandon Strong, were married in 2004.