Men's Cross Country Season Preview
Sept. 14, 2012
SEATTLE - An oft-used expression in football is that games are not won in the first quarter, but they can be lost. Head Coach Greg Metcalf has modified that slightly for the sport of cross country.
"Cross country season is not won in the summer, but it can be lost in the summer."
This summer saw the Huskies running to reach the starting line in the best shape possible. Now with the start of the season just a few days away, the Dawgs are in a great position and hoping to have plenty left in the tank when the fourth quarter rolls around in November.
"I think our guys did a great job collectively this summer," says Metcalf. "We haven't had this many guys running the mileage that they've run and coming in healthy and fired up."
The past two seasons have seen the Huskies endure more than their fare share of injuries, with runners in and out of the lineup, getting late starts to the fall and trying to make up for lost time. In 2010, the Huskies peaked for Regionals and just missed the NCAA meet after finishing 18th at nationals in 2008 and 2009. But last season, the fluctuating lineup did not gel on the right day, and UW was not a factor at Regionals, something the group has spent months working to change.
"The conversation at the golf course at Regionals last year in Palo Alto, we had just not run well, and traditionally we have performed well at the Regional meet," says Metcalf, in his 16th season at Washington. "So we talked about how that race could be different in 2012 in Seattle.
"Part of the problem was just a function of personnel. We were missing some pieces. Fast-forward twelve months from then and the goal is to have the best guys on your roster standing on the starting line healthy and ready to run."
The great positive is the experience gained by runners who stepped into the top-seven for the first time last year. And now the Huskies return all seven of their 2011 West Regional starters, while adding back some key talent. This is now a large, experienced group of Husky men determined to return to the path to nationals.
Joey Bywater, one of two seniors along with Rob Webster Jr., is now the last Husky remaining that lined up at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Luckily, Bywater provides a great example and lead Dawg to follow.
"Joey is a phenomenal leader," says Metcalf. "He's a great guy, everybody respects him and listens to him. Last year he didn't have a wingman in races, and I think this year we do, so I think that makes Joey better. His redshirt freshman year we won the Notre Dame Invitational, ran well and made the NCAA Championships, and Joey I think can raise his level when we're in contention. I think right now as a fifth year senior he's on a team that he's helped create. I'm excited about where he is right now and where he can help take this team."
Joining Bywater up front could be All-American junior James Cameron, back from a redshirt season and incredibly fit after a dedicated summer of training, according to his coach. During the 2011 track season, Cameron placed eighth in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships and broke the four-minute barrier. His following outdoor season was off to a great start but cut short by an ankle injury during a steeplechase run, and he has not competed since. But Metcalf does not expect there to be much rust.
"James Cameron is a very important piece to this puzzle. He's a fearless competitor, and I think our team last fall we missed that. So adding him back to the mix gives our guys a jolt of confidence."
Cameron, who Metcalf credits with All-American potential, did tweak his back during fall training camp but Metcalf says the hope is it's nothing serious. "I'm excited to watch him back in action. He'll probably make his debut at the Dellinger Invitational and hopefully be rolling from there."
The runner that could benefit most from a full summer of training is Webster Jr., who Metcalf says is coming off his best summer ever, "bar none." Webster Jr. was Washington's top runner in the 2010 postseason, placing in the top-30 at Pac-10s and top-35 at Regionals, but last year injuries prevented him from being at his best in the fall. He came back in the indoor track season to run 13:55 for 5,000-meters and score at the MPSF meet.
"Robby when he's healthy is an incredibly tough, tenacious competitor. I think he was headed for great things outdoors but he has been a little banged up. So he comes into this season driven and he wants to lead this team to the NCAA Championships," says Metcalf, commending the Puyallup native for doing "everything in his power to prepare himself."
Carlson and Gilna both had solid fall seasons, running consistently in UW's top-seven, but rocky and sparse seasons on the track. "Taylor spent the summer training at altitude with some high school buddies. He has big goals for himself and this team and he prepared to make those a reality." So far the coach says "in training he's looked great."
Gareth Gilna has upped his mileage and the junior, 27th at Pac-12s a year ago, has prepared to make this his best season yet.
Metcalf can say the same thing about Gilna, who was 27th at the Pac-12 Championships last fall in his best outing. Gilna is running in excess of a hundred miles a week. "He's another guy on our team that I think is a leader," Metcalf says. "He's shown flashes of brilliance along the way. Now at this point he's a redshirt junior and my goal is that he's running his very best when we get to November."
"Michael Miller ran solid in the steeple last track season and made our top-10 list indoors at 800-meters," says Metcalf of another key junior. "I think he was disappointed with his performance last fall, because he is a guy who has run in our top-five before. But I think he's more fit at this point than ever before. He has a lot of potential still, and he is another who prepared well this summer."
A feel-good story could be in store this season for junior Bryan Tibaduiza, and feeling good is the biggest part, as no Husky has fought through more than Tibaduiza. Knocked down a few times, the Reno, Nev. native has come back stronger and fitter than ever this fall and is closer than ever to making an impact. Tibaduiza was the top finisher at UW's race at Magnuson which opened up the fall.
"He really wants to do this, and he had a great summer of training spent with his father in South America. He's way better right now than I've ever seen him," Metcalf says. "Knock on wood he'll get to have a healthy and complete cross country season."
And we haven't even come to the top Husky finisher from last year's West Regionals, Aaron Beattie, who capped his redshirt freshman season by leading the Dawgs for the first time in Palo Alto. "If he can improve upon that Regional effort and get into the top-30 and we can have a pack of guys there with him, then we're going to have a good chance. But I know Aaron will go run methodical, patient, consistent cross country races."
One of the storylines last year was the energy brought by the large freshman class. Aaron Nelson, Meron Simon, and Dylan Morin were three newcomers that earned spots in the top-seven at various points last year, with Nelson scoring at both postseason meets. With a year under their belts, expect the group of second-year runners to make greater strides.
Also improved are Angelo Comeaux and Dylan Morin, who Metcalf calls a workhorse. They and sophomore Kevin Mangan will provide quality depth. Simon could redshirt the fall with a knee issue, with Tim Cummings and Chris Wozniak also limited early.
The 2012 rookie class featuring three true freshman and Bernie Hagan who walked on last track season should get to transition to college life smoothly, with all expected to redshirt given UW's depth and experience at the top. Mitchell Montgomery (Duvall, Wash.), Blake Nelson (Mill Creek, Wash.), and Nick Harris (Niwot, Colo.) will likely compete unattached this fall and build towards track season.
Metcalf says, "I think they're a talented group. For freshmen to come in and impact in 8k and 10k cross country, ultimately it's a long road to haul and it's difficult. We'll redshirt those guys and build some base to prepare for the spring and next fall."
Expect the men to jump right into things at the first meet at the Sundodger this Saturday, then build from there. "The big goal for the men is to be ready on Friday, November 9, at the West Regional here in Seattle. I think our men, if we play our cards right, and time it appropriately, our goal is to be a team that gets to the national meet," states Metcalf. To that end, the men will make a short trip to Eugene to run in the Bill Dellinger Invite while the women are in Louisville. That will make for just two long trips for the men prior to Regionals, once to Wisconsin and once to Los Angeles for the Pac-12 meet.
Come November, the men will look to make good on the months and miles since last fall's disappointing end, and celebrate an NCAA bid with the hometown fans at Jefferson Park Golf Course.