Men's Cross Country Season Preview
Sept. 16, 2011
SEATTLE - In one year's time, the Husky men's distance group has gone from a young and inexperienced squad to a veteran unit positioned for a breakthrough season. The men went through the ringer last season, taking their share of lumps at early season races at Notre Dame and Pre-Nationals before regrouping and peaking at West Regionals. After the rough regular season saw them ranked 15th in the West heading into Regionals, the Huskies rallied for a sixth-place finish, in all probability falling just one place short of reaching NCAAs for the third year in a row.
Washington saw the bad and the ugly last season, but ended on the good, and hopes to build on that momentum after graduating just one senior from last year's team.
Washington's early season plans were thrown into disarray last year by a back injury to Max O'Donoghue-McDonald, the team's unquestioned leader. After winning the season-opening Sundodger Invitational, O'Donoghue-McDonald was unable to race again for the rest of the season. But the Seattle Prep product came back with a strong track season, breaking 14-minutes in the 5k, and has followed that up with a productive summer to be in fine form once again. So UW will get the luxury of adding a top senior back into its top-seven.
"He's our guy," Coach Metcalf says of Max. "He's in a great place right now. He ran a PR last track season at 5k. Max is a fifth year season and running 10k cross country is all about maturity." Metcalf says that O'Donoghue-McDonald paced himself well in his training, and showed up this fall as "a lean, mean machine, and I think our team is really good because of where he is right now."
Along with Max, junior Joey Bywater and sophomore Gareth Gilna also ended their 2011 track seasons at the West Preliminary Championships, Bywater making the quarterfinals at 1,500-meters and Gilna qualifying at 800-meters. Both mid-distance standouts have shown plenty of ability over the longer distances, and will be key contributors this fall.
Gareth had flashes of brilliance in the track season. He had a great summer of training. He's a leader on our team, has great attitude and confidence. He's headed down the path," says Metcalf. "I think he has the potential to be something special and he's doing a great job right now."
Bywater was an All-West Region performer in 2009 and "Joey is doing great right now," Metcalf says. "I love watching him and Max train together. Joey is building on some fitness and I think he's in a really good place right now. I'm excited about what he's capable of doing this fall."
Metcalf is looking for big seasons as well from sophomore Michael Miller and Cameron Quackenbush, the only other senior on the squad with O'Donoghue-McDonald. Miller was the fourth finisher for the Dawgs at the Pac-10 and West Regional meets a year ago, and on the track he scored in the steeplechase at Pac-10s and made NCAA West Prelims.
"Mike Miller had a terrible summer last year but ran great at the championships," says Metcalf. "He's had a great summer of training this year, and so far he's been light years better than he was at any point last fall."
If Quackenbush can finish with his best season the Huskies will be very strong. In 2009, the Spokane native was UW's fourth finisher, 159th overall, at the NCAA Championships. "He loves to run cross country," Metcalf says. "He's been a little inconsistent, but my goal for him as a fifth year senior is to get him to the end of the year running 10k in Palo Alto to help get our men's team to the national championships."
Sophomore Taylor Carlson also gained some valuable experience last year, one of the few runners to be in the top-seven at every race for the Dawgs, and he was "steady and consistent, but now," says Metcalf, "he stayed here this summer and he worked his butt off. He will be a guy that will be dramatically better than he was a year ago."
Should Washington run well over the first few weeks, it can look for the return of Rob Webster to help take it to the next level. Webster was the No. 1 Husky across the line at Pac-10s and Regionals a year ago, but was banged up during track season and is still working his way back to full strength.
"Rob Webster is the big question mark," concedes Metcalf. "He's just been bit by the injury bug too frequently, but I think he's the guy that has the capability and the mental capacity to go work hard and take care of himself. If his first race is the Pac-12 Championships, he's the guy that can handle that. He's a guy we need to run well at the 10k distance and he's more than capable of doing that."
When the Huskies found success at the end of the season, it was by tightening the gap between their one to five runners. After a gap of nearly a minute at Pre-Nationals, UW cut that to 32 seconds at Pac-10s, and then trimmed it to 26 seconds at Regionals over the longer distance. Pack running will be key again this season, but Metcalf hopes a couple Huskies can contend near the front of the loaded Pac-12 and West Region races while keeping the gap the same. "I think Max should be top-10 in the Pac-12 Championships," he says.
The one returner that UW will have to make do without is junior James Cameron. An All-American in the mile last track season, Cameron injured his ankle running the steeplechase and had surgery. He has now been cleared to run again but the plan for Cameron is to redshirt.
A number of redshirts from a year ago will suit up for the first time this season, including Aaron Beattie, Danny Gibson, and Kevin Mangan. Of that group, Metcalf calls Beattie "one that can make an impact to our team," adding that "he's consistent in how he races and trains. He's excited to put the uniform on and finally be in the mix this season." Gibson and Mangan are both in better places now than a year ago and working hard every day, Metcalf says. Another returner looking to shake off some injuries is sophomore Bryan Tibaduiza, currently hampered by an achilles injury, but who is someone that Metcalf is still "excited about what he's capable of doing. Hopefully he gets back running here and he can help us out come November."
The returners will have to watch their backs as a huge group of freshmen enters the fray this season, with 10 of the 23 roster spots going to true freshmen this fall. Odds are at least a couple will work their way into the travel squad and possibly the postseason roster. In the tempo run with Seattle U. that the Huskies held two weeks ago at Magnuson Park, freshmen Meron Simon, Kyle Rae, and Tyler King ran with the lead pack throughout.
"The group of freshmen from top to bottom, there are pleasant surprises in that group," Metcalf says. "Most freshmen, you have to see how they progress throughout the next ten weeks. But we'll run the group all unattached at the the first meet. Tyler King, Aaron Nelson, and Meron Simon are three that can potentially help us out this year. Kyle Rae showed a little something in our time trial. Overall, this is a group that if they are able to train through the fall, and come in as redshirt freshmen next year, they will really increase the talent base of our team."
The large pack of rookies will have great leaders to look up to as they find their way.
"Day one, they have lots of expectations of what they can do as a group. We haven't added a group like this in a few years and I'm excited about it. I think they are going to be an interesting group to watch develop in the next four to five years."