Huskies' Men Thinking Long-Term in 2005

Sept. 12, 2005

Washington started the 2004 season full of optimism. Three Huskies returned from a squad that placed 21st at the 2003 NCAA Championships, the team's first appearance at the national meet in 10 years.

Those plans unraveled quickly, however, when a spring foot injury failed to heal for No. 2 returnee Carl Moe (Auburn, Wash.), and No. 3 returner Mike Sayenko (Bellevue, Wash.) suffered a broken leg. Suddenly, a team expected to rely on its veteran leaders was instead forced to break in a largely unproven group of freshmen and sophomores, ultimately shuffling 12 different runners through its top seven over the course of five varsity races.

Fighting the inconsitency so often associated with youth, the team surged to fourth at the Pac-10 Championships, but slid to seventh at the NCAA West Regional, missing an NCAA Championships berth.

Those growing pains should pay off in 2005, however, with a healthy Moe and Sayenko returning to a squad made deep in varsity experience by their absence.

No Husky is more experienced than senior Mark Mandi (Everett, Wash.), winner of the 2004 Sundodger Invitational and the Huskies' leader in three of the four races in which he competed last season. In 2005, however, Mandi finds himself challenged by a number of runners who feel they, too, can lead the Huskies back to 'The Show.'

In addition to former top-three competitors Moe and Sayenko, senior Andy Fader (Everett, Wash.) will be eager to return Washington to the NCAAs in his final season, having run no lower than fifth for UW in 2004. Juniors Travis Boyd (Mukilteo, Wash.) and Kevin Peters (?, Wash.) and sophomores Jeremy Mineau (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Brad Liber (San Diego, Calif.) will also challengefor top honors, each coming off outstanding spring seasons.

Mandi, Moe and Fader have been selected to captain the Husky squad in 2005, a season that begins with perhaps as talented a roster as has been assembled in head coach Greg Metcalf's eight years atop the program. Mandi and Moe say that starting in 2005, making the NCAA Championships isn't a goal - it's an expectation.

How much did injuries impact the team's success last season?
'That's a huge deal to lose two of your top-three returning guys. Experience in college is a huge factor. The 8K and 10K distances you run in college are a big difference from the 5K you run in high school.'
Moe: 'Also, the competition level is so much higher in college. Pretty much everyone who comes into this program was a stud in high school, and is used to running races a certain way. In even the smallest college race, though, every single guy out there was a high-school stud. That takessome getting used to.'

What excites you this year?
'Having so many new guys in the lineup might have hurt us last year, but it's going to pay off for us this year. Now, everyone has gone through a full season of cross country and track, so they have that much more experience to bring back to cross country this fall. Then you add in the return of guys like Carl Moe and Mike Sayenko, who are both training really well, and you have the makings for a pretty good team.'
Moe: 'We have about 15 guys who think they can run in our top-seven, and at least three or four who think they can win a race this year. They are all running really well right now and are determined to make it. Now, obviously not all of them are going to make it into the top-seven - heck, some won't even make it into our second seven! But that just shows how deep this team is - we have so many talented guys, we could field two full teams out there, and still have to leave out guys who are running well. We might have to leave someone at home who is capable of finishing in the top-50 at nationals. But if we do that, it's because there are seven other guys running even better, and that's awesome.'

What affect will that competition have on team chemistry?
'Naturally, if you're not going to make the team, you're going to be a little frustrated. Every guy on the team has been working really hard this summer, and every guy deserves a spot in the top seven. We think that we can go to nationals and do well, and everyone wants to be a part of that. But in the end, everyone just wants the team to be successful.'
Moe: 'Everyone is going to contribute, so if we go to nationals, it's not just going to be because of seven or eight guys who have been running in the races. It's going to be because every single guy on the team, from our No. 1 runner to the last guy on our roster, has been working hard every day in practice to push everybody else to give their best. In that way, every single guy on the team will play a role in us going to nationals, not just the guys who run at Pac-10s or Regionals.'

What are the team's strengths?
'Camaraderie. In the past, we've had guys split off into different groups after practice, or during the summer, but this year we're really one big group. We all have the same goals now. We all believe in what the coaches are saying, and are committed to doing it together.'
Mandi: 'Our coaches recruit great people. They're asking the input of the veterans during the recruiting process, really making it an emphasis to get guys who are not only the best runners, but will fit in well with the team. That's made a big difference.'

What will it take to be successful?
'In the past, we've had a big group of talented runners, but we haven't had a lot of runners at the front of races. This year we have guys who are able to do that, which will help carry our team to the front.'

Who are some of those guys?
'Mark, for sure, has proven that he can be one of those guys. Mike Sayenko, too, can run up there, while Jeremy Mineau has improved a ton. Travis Boyd has won a race before, and he can certainly run up front. I expect myself to be up there as well. If we're all up there, that's five guys who will be battling for the lead.'
Mandi: 'If you have five guys who can run like that at the front of the pack, that's pretty tough to beat.'

Who are some other guys to watch?
'Kevin Peters and Brad Liber have both been under the radar every year. Kevin's returning with our fastest 10K time from the track season. He may not be the first guy who comes to mind when you're listing guys who will be big factors for us this year, but he's good enough to be able to do something big. Brad, meanwhile, was our most improved runner last year.'
Moe: 'Jon Harding, too, has been training well and getting experience.'They're the kind of guys who are out here every day just working. They might not be the fastest guys out there, but they're working hard enough that they can run with anyone. Having so many guys capable of running well just raises everyone's level of training. There's so much competition for those top-seven spots, that if you don't continually give your best in practice and races, you know that coach has plenty of other talented options to replace you, guys who are hungry to compete. That just makes everyone work harder and run better every day, and that's good for our team.'

With so much depth, is it going to be hard for a freshman to crack the lineup this year?
'Harder than any other year, I think. Jordan McNamara is one guy coming in from my high school who has the potential to run really well. I'm not sure if it will this year, but he's going to make an impact for sure at some point in his career. But we have 15 guys already fighting for those top-seven spots. Add any more, and you're talking about almost our entire roster.'
Mandi: 'And then next year, they're all going to be back again. It's going to be just as tough.'

Who are going to be the teams to beat in the West Region?
'This is definitely the toughest region to get out of. The West is going to send a lot of teams to nationals this year.'
Moe: 'Stanford is always one of the best teams in the nation; you know they'll be there at the end. Arizona has five guys from Kenya, who can run really well.'
Mandi: 'Arizona State, too, is one of the top returning teams in the nation. But Oregon, Cal Poly, Portland ... they all have really strong teams that talent-wise should be at nationals.'
Moe: 'This region is just really strong. I honestly think the West could take eight of the 32 spots at nationals this year. We're going to have to score a lot of at-large points early in the season, at meets like Pre-Nationals, Pac-10s and Willamette, because the Regional meet is going to be a dogfight.'

What are the signs of success fans can look for early in the season?
(laughing) 'Lots of purple in front.'
Mandi: 'We started our official training runs later in the summer than we ever have before, because we want to be peaking at the right time of the season. We're going to try and snowball into our season, building up momentum right up through nationals at the end of the year.'
Moe: 'If everyone's healthy, that will be a big key. If that's the case, we should be running more people at the front of races than we're used to having up there. We have a lot of guys who can lead races, so you might see five different guys in purple jerseys leading a race at some point.'

Have you set any specific goals for the team this season?
'We set very specific goals last year, in terms of how we wanted to finish at certain races, and that kind of backfired, I think. When we didn't meet one of those goals, we were disappointed and got down on ourselves. In the past, we've had the goal of just going to nationals. This year, we want to start a tradition whereby we don't hope that if everything goes right, we'll be at nationals; instead we want to expect to be at nationals, and then hope that if everything goes right, we'll place really high and be a top-10 team. That's the kind of tradition we're trying to build this year.'
Mandi: 'This team is so young. Andy and I are the only ones who will graduate, which means there are going to be a ton of guys with top-level experience coming back for each of the next few years. That's what it's going to take to get a tradition like that started -- a few years of continuity, guys who go to nationals two, three years in a row, to the point that it just becomes the standard.'
Moe: 'Mark and Andy have played a big role in starting the camaraderie of the team over the past couple of years, and really beginning the process of putting that tradition in place. So part of my motivation this year is to get them to the show in their last season, so that their role in starting this tradition won't be forgotten. We just need to take every race as it comes, and focus on running our best in that race, and not worry about the next race. If we do that every time out, then I think we'll be happy with the results.'