A Serendipitous Beginning: WSU's Ruby Roberts
By Bob Keyser
Meet freshman Ruby Roberts, who this time last year was a strong distance-running prospect from Kingston, Wash., a nice little suburb across the Sound from Seattle. Roberts was highly touted during her high school career, thanks to impressive performances in both cross country and track, including cross country state championships at the 2A level in her sophomore and senior years (she finished a strong second in her junior year). She holds numerous school records at Kingston High, including the 800m, the 1600m, and the 5000m.
Roberts didn't have to be especially proactive in the recruiting process, because interested coaches were actively pursuing her. Ironically — and humorously, as Roberts freely admits — what became most difficult was keeping the various coaches' names and phone numbers organized and clear.
"It's kind of a funny story, I guess," she said. "And it is true. I was talking to a couple of different coaches, and I had written down their numbers on a piece of paper, and I hadn't really marked them very clearly. At the time, once I started narrowing down, Washington State wasn't on my short list, and I was meaning to call a different coach. I called Coach Pete by mistake - I quickly realized what I had done, but I didn't want to be rude, so I had a good conversation with him."
Roberts and Julian spoke again, and Julian made his pitch to the potential star. She agreed to make her visit to campus, and that's where Roberts knew where she belonged.
"I really liked the girls on the team, and I could tell that Coach Pete knows what he's doing," she said. "I looked at some other schools - both east and west coast - Brown and Harvard, San Francisco, Portland, Boise, Gonzaga, but I just decided that WSU was the place for me."
Talk about good fortune, right Coach?
"It's the truth," Julian said. "That is the real scoop. She accidentally called me when she meant to be calling the Boise State coach. As any coach in the Pac-10 will tell you, when we get a fish on the line, we do our best to get them hooked. Recruiting talent is paramount to compete in this league. I took the opportunity to do my best to get her in for a visit, and once she got here, we were able to make it happen."
"We have a lot to sell out here, especially for distance runners, with great camaraderie on the team and endless scenic dirt roads to run on," Julian said. "When we finally got her on the line, we had a really good chance."
Once she arrived in Pullman, Roberts had some adjustments to make. Adapting to life on a big campus can be intimidating at first, not to mention having to acclimate to a major college training regimen.
"Everything got a lot bigger," she said. "The town of Pullman is similar in size to the town I come from, but we didn't have the college campus and 20,000 students. The training is definitely harder, probably twice as many miles as I did in high school. And the campus is so big, and I see so many people that I don't even know."
"As far as the adjustment goes, I could probably stand to get a little more sleep, but I always have running to fall back on," she said. "It's familiar, and it's something that will always be there for me. It gives me a routine, something comfortable. Having the bond with the girls on the team is great - I have a built-in support system."
"And Coach Julian has been a strong influence," Roberts said. "He knows what he's doing, and we really trust and respect everything he tells us. He's experienced and knowledgeable, and he gives us workouts that push us and help us get better."
There's no doubt that Coach Julian will push, because he wants the best out of all of his student athletes. He will be demanding at times, but that is all part of the learning process. This is what you sign up for as a Pac-10 student athlete.
"Ruby will tell you herself - she didn't run her best race at the [recent] Pre-Nationals meet. But you have to remember, 70 of the strongest teams in the country were competing out there - I'm sure it was a bit of a rude awakening for her," Julian said. "But you can't get that kind of experience unless you go compete in these events - especially for a freshman. We can't forget that with these fall sports, the true freshman who are out there competing are only a few months removed from high school, from sleeping in their own beds and getting home cooked meals. It's a big adjustment. It's a big spotlight, and there are lots of things to balance."
"She's a true competitor, and she realizes she can be running up toward the front in those kinds of races. And maybe it was a good thing for her … it's certainly not going to get any easier from here."
Roberts has honed her athletic talent in some unconventional ways. Julian believes that her smooth, fluid running style is rooted in her early years as a dancer.
"Biomechanically, she's a great runner," he said. "She's fluid, up on her toes, solid and strong. You can look at her and tell that's she's going to continue to develop, and get stronger and stronger."
Roberts admits that dancing is high on her list of passions.
"I've actually been dancing longer than I've been running, believe it or not," Roberts said. "It's been a mix of styles - ballet, modern, and jazz, mainly. I'm taking a couple of dance classes here at the WSU Rec Center, but I guess I've had to make the choice to pursue running over dance, even though I love both."
It is that focus and determination that has Julian and others foreseeing great things for Ruby Roberts. It is not often that a talent like hers comes along, much less a talent like hers that just happens to dial a very fortuitous wrong number.
"Ruby Roberts will do well in this conference," Coach Julian said. She's an exceptional athlete among many, she's athletically gifted and academically gifted, and she's got a good head on her shoulders. She's also got other interests outside of running and studying, so she's got that perspective and balance that great athletes need."