Husky Women Reload in '05
Sept. 15, 2005
Every year presents a new challenge for Washington head coach Greg Metcalf.
But with every new challenge has come the same result - an NCAA Championships berth. Despite alternating frequently between veteran-heavy teams and teams reliant on youth, Metcalf has guided the Huskies' women's cross country program to the NCAA meet in each of his eight years as coach - a streak bettered nationally by just five Division-I programs.
After riding a group of four seniors to a 23rd-place NCAA finish in 2004, Metcalf's Huskies find themselves back at square one this season, with just two top-seven returnees and just five returning letterwinners in all.
As pressure to keep the streak alive mounts, Washington will turn to a talented group of freshmen including Tori Tyler (Palo Alto, Calif.), California's 5,000-meter state champion in 2005, and Brooke Lademan (Rolling Hills, Calif.), a top-five Calfornia state three-mile finisher, as well as a strong redshirt freshman group including NCAA indoor track All-American Amanda Miller (Wenatchee, Wash.) and former top-five California state cross country finisher Dani Schuster (Kenneiwck, Wash.).
With so much young talent, it will be up to Washington's captains - senior Angela Wishaar (Shoreline, Wash.), the team's No. 3 runner at the 2004 Pac-10 and NCAA Regional meets; and sophomore Amy Lia (Bothell, Wash.), a top-three runner in 2003 and 2004 NCAA 1,500-meter All-American - to provide leadership early in the season, and build the young team's confidence heading into the postseason meets.
It's a challenge - but none a Metcalf-coached team hasn't overcome before.
Midway through last season, it looked as if the NCAAs might be an unreachable goal. How did the team turn the season around so quickly?
Wishaar: 'Last year was a bit of a surprise, but at the same time, we always seem to put it together at the end of the year, so there's really no reason to be surprised when we do. Both of the last two years started off tough, and I remember thinking, `We're not going to make it.' But we always do. I think everyone just knows that come the end of the year, we all have a job to do, and we do it. So there's no reason to panic if things aren't going our way in September, because we know that we'll get the job done when we have to.'
Does the team feel pressure to keep the streak alive each year, or do you take each year as it comes?
Lia: 'For sure. No one wants to be the team that doesn't make it, so yes, there is a lot of pressure.'
Wishaar: 'It's not pressure so much as it is a feeling of responsibility to keep the streak going. It definitely gives you a goal to work for at the end of the year.'
Lia: 'It's what you train for all summer.'
Wishaar: 'If there's ever a day that you don't want to run, you think, `I have to be at my best so that we can make it to nationals.' You don't want your slacking off to be the reason the team doesn't get there. In that way, the pressure to get back to nationals keeps you focused all year long.'
What about this year's team makes you confident you can get back to nationals?
Wishaar: 'We have really competitive girls who know what it takes to get the job done. I think it also helps us that we don't have one top-of-the-line girl, who runs way out in front in every race.'
Lia: 'Not having a girl like that makes it important for everyone to run well as a team, because we're not going to be able to count on that one low score at the front. That puts the responsibility for the team's success on everyone's shoulders, rather than just one girl's, and that pushes everyone to run better.'
Wishaar: 'We can't rely on just one girl to run well and carry our team; we all have to run well if we are going to be successful.'
How has training been different this yearwith such a small returning group?
Wishaar: 'The girls that graduated last year - Lindsey Egerdahl, Jamie Gibbs, Laura Halverson - they were the core of our team for a long time. Not just in running, but from a leadership perspective as well. Last summer, we had so many girls coming back, that we would all meet together every morning to go run. This summer, there wasn't anyone around to run with, so the responsibility was totally on ourselves to go run. There wasn't as much accountability.'
Lia: 'I personally think that not having as much structure this summer was a good thing. In past years, every day of summer training was planned out, and I think that a lot of people ended up overtraining or getting burned out early in the season. This summer, you could do whatever felt right for you, and I think that's going to help people to stay fit and stay motivated throughout the year.'
Lia: 'With the loss of all of those girls, and the changes in training styles this summer, it almost feels like we're starting over.'
What will be your roles as leaders?
Wishaar: 'Setting a good example will be really important. Even if my race isn't going well, I need to remember that we have a young team, and that I need to keep going and set an example for the other girls. The same goes in practice; as leaders we need to stay positive and encourage others, even if our days, or our races, aren't going as well as we'd like.'
Lia: 'You can't let your frustrations show. You have to stay positive. Everyone is going to be looking to us to set an example. If they see that we're disappointed or frustrated, they might start to get down on themselves. We can't let that happen; we need to stay positive all the time.'
How will a lack of veterans impact the newcomers to the program?
Lia: 'When I came in two years ago, it was super-scary because there was this tight veteran group that had been training together forever and was super hard-core; it was a little intimidating. This year, though, there are only three seniors and a few upperclassmen, so I think that the girls coming in will feel right away like they're a big part of the team, and that's only going to make them more comfortable.'
Wishaar: 'When there's a big veteran group, you can find yourself as a freshman just following them around, and kind of standing aside and letting them do their thing. This year, though, those girls know that they have a shot to be on the travel squad and to be a big part of the team, so I think that's going to help them with their training and motivation right from the start.'
Lia: 'It'll just make them stronger overall for the future. Their role on this team isn't predetermined - they know that if they run well and train well, they'll be with us at Pac-10s and Regionals, and I think that's going to be a big motivator for them this year.'
How important is it to the team's success that one or more of those freshmen have big years?
Lia: 'We'll need some of them for sure. But at the same time, I don't want to have to rely on them, because that puts a lot of pressure on them. I think a lot of times when you come in as a freshman and you know the team is counting on you, you try to do too much and end up getting injured, and that can affect your whole career. I want them to be able to succeed in the long term, so I don't want them to feel like we're relying on them right away.'
Wishaar: 'But, I don't really know how that's going to work since we don't really have a lot of other girls we can count on until the freshmen are ready. That's going to be a challenge for us.'
How important is experience in cross country?
Lia: 'It's nice, but it can also be a drawback. If a certain girl has beaten you a few times and you see her ahead of you in a race, you might think, `Oh, I can't catch her, I might as well not even bother.' But if you don't know any better, you just go after it and run as hard as you can, without setting any limits on yourself.'
Wishaar: 'Meghan Lawrence last year is a perfect example. She came in here having never run cross country in her life -- she didn't know that the girls she was passing were high-school All-Americans, or No. 2 or 3 runners on their teams. She just ran as fast as she could from start to finish, and as a result ended up finishing in our top-five pretty much all year, which is way better than anyone would have imagined.'
Lia: 'Exactly. When you don't have any expectations, or any preconceived ideas of where you are `supposed' to finish, then you're not putting any limitations on what you can achieve.'
Is there a Meghan Lawrence on the team this year?
Lia: 'Tori Tyler looks like the kind of person that doesn't set any limitations on herself, and who isn't going to be intimidated by anyone she sees on the course. She's not scared of us at all. She's ready to go.'
Who are some veterans that you think will have an impact this year?
Lia: 'I think that Brianna McLeod is going to have a big year. She's had a hard time for a while, but I think she finally has it all figured out. I also like Dani Schuster - she's been in the program for a year now, and has the potential to be awesome. And of course there's Amanda Miller - she missed cross country season last year but was an All-American on the track as a freshman. It'll be interesting to see what she brings to cross country this fall.'
What are some realistic expectations for this team?
Wishaar: 'We definitely want to be back at nationals. I think we can do it for sure. We need to all run well, to know what we need to do and do it.'
Lia: 'Angela and I were talking earlier this summer about how this year we want to be able to run as a pack, to use each other's strengths to pull everyone as a team to the front. If we could all get together like that and run as one, that would be awesome. We'd be like a force - a purple force.'
Wishaar: 'With us not having any one star girl, that's what it's going to take for us to be successful - we have to work together on the course.'
Is that different than how the team has run in the past?
Lia: 'It's always been a goal that we've had, to run together as a pack. But what usually happens is, you get to the starting line and say. `We're a team; we're all going to run together.' Then the starting gun goes off and we're all a bunch of individuals, just doing our own thing. It's all hectic.'
Wishaar: 'It's going to take a lot more discipline on everyone's part to stay together, to not get distracted by your own individual race but to remember your role as part of the team.'
Lia: 'This year, having such a young team and sort of starting from scratch, I think it's a great time to try and get that kind of a pack mentality in place. When you've been running races for a long time, you can kind of start to get trapped in a certain race style, because you get comfortable running races a certain way. Having so many inexperienced girls, though, nobody really has that individual race style developed yet, so it's a really good chance for us to get everybody running as a team.'
What is going to be the team's biggest obstacle to success?
Wishaar: 'I think that there's a danger that we might be intimidated early on, knowing that we don't have as much experience as some of the other teams that we're going to be facing. It's going to be important for us to build confidence early in the season, so that we go into the big meets at the end of the year believing in ourselves.'
What do you love most about competing for UW?
Lia: 'I've always wanted to run at UW. So, it's just amazing to be able to put on that jersey and represent the UW. When people ask me where I run, I'm so proud to be able to say that I run for UW. UW has such an amazing reputation and history of success; I feel lucky to be a part of that.'
Wishaar: 'In high school, I always wanted to come to UW, but I figured there was no way I was good enough to run in college. So to be able to come here and represent UW, it's just amazing. We have such a great tradition, and it's such a great school. I love my teammates, too. Honestly, there isn't anything I don't love about running here.'
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