2002 Men's Cross Country Preview
Aug. 21, 2002
That's the combined total which first-year head coach Greg Metcalf estimates has kept Washington's men's squad from going to the NCAA Championships over the last five years.
'A few years ago we missed by three points, and last year it was five,' says Metcalf, who enters his first year as head coach but sixth overall at Washington. 'The West Regional meet was the best meet we ran all year. When that race finished, I thought we were in third place, fourth at worst.'
In fact, the Huskies were seventh, just five points shy of Arizona State, which earned the provisional berth to the NCAA Championship meet in Greeneville, S.C., while Metcalf was forced for the fifth-straight year to ponder what could have been.
'John Russell missed all of last season with an injury - he's worth a few places to us for sure,' Metcalf says. 'Still, my expectations don't change. Injuries are going to happen; the great teams are the ones that can overcome those kinds of obstacles. There comes a point when these near-misses at the Regional meet have to stop, and our guys have to bear down and find a way to get to the NCAAs.'
Metcalf hopes his young and talented 2002 squad will be the one to take that next step. Washington loses three of its top seven runners from 2001, including captains Jason Fayant and Mike Hill - the team's top two finishers at last year's regional competition.
On talent alone, 2002 captains Eric Garner, Dustin Duke and Todd Arnold measure up well to their predecessors. Their leadership abilities will be crucial to bringing together a young team which features 17 freshmen or sophomores.
'They're young, but they're hungry,' Metcalf says. 'Also, they have an undying belief in each other and have great attitudes. Attitude is the most important thing.'
Metcalf believes that the can-do attitude of this year's cross-country squad is rooted in the successful 2002 track season, in which Washington's distance runners littered the nation's best lists.
Perhaps no Husky reaped as much success in 2002 as then-sophomore Garner. A supremely talented but oft-injured runner since his arrival from Kelso, Wash., in 1999, Garner shattered indoor school records in the mile and 3,000 meters, and was a top-five finisher at the Pac-10 meet in the both 800- and 1,500 meters. Garner also became Washington's first indoor four-minute miler since 1976, breaking Greg Gibson's long-standing school record with a time of 3:58.93 at the UW Indoor Qualifier on Mar. 3.
'Eric Garner had a tremendous track season, and is ready to step up as a leader on this team,' Metcalf says. 'He has improved tremendously. Right now, he feels like he can run with anybody. He's incredibly confident.'
Joining Garner at the front of the pack this year will be fellow juniors Duke and Arnold. Duke, a Mill Creek, Wash., native, ran in the Huskies' top-two at four of six meets in 2001, and earned his first-career victory at the season-opening Emerald City Invitational.
Arnold, meanwhile, was not among the Huskies' top-seven in 2001, but posted outstanding times on the track en route to an 11th-place 800-meter finish at the Pac-10 Championships.
'The day Todd Arnold arrived on campus in 2000, he started to change the feeling of this team,' Metcalf says. 'He's gotten better every year, has a great attitude, and does everything you ask of him. That attitude filters down to the other guys.'
The 'other guy' Metcalf is most looking forward to working with is junior John Russell. The Huskies' top finisher in all but one race as a sophomore in 2000, Russell has missed the last two track seasons and the 2001 cross-country season as the result of tendonitis. His return would be an enormous boost to the top of the Husky rotation.
'John Russell is a big question mark,' Metcalf says. 'He's super-important to our team's success. He may not be ready when the season begins, but I have every confidence that when we get down to the Pac-10 and NCAA Regional meets, John will be one of our top guys.'
In addition to those four, a trio of talented returnees will push each other all season for berths in the Huskies' top seven. Jeremy Park transferred from Portland State in 2001 and made an immediate impact, running in UW's top-four at every meet, and placing eighth in the 1,500 meters at the Pac-10 Championships.
He was joined in 2001 by fellow newcomer Michael Kiter, a prep All-American who started off slow but rounded into shape for the postseason, running with the Huskies' best at the Pac-10 and NCAA Regional meets. Those two, along with relative newcomer Matt Topping, are among the runners Metcalf expects big things from in 2002.'We had high expectations for Michael, and he had a solid freshman year, There were times last year when he was the best runner on our team,' Metcalf says. 'The flipside to that is Matt Topping, who didn't even make our team last year, but is a guy whose improvement has just been off the charts this spring. I expect him to step up in a big way.'
Metcalf also eyes Ben Koss, the Pac-10's 12th finisher in the 10,000 meters in 2002, and Andy Fader, a conference qualifier at 1,500 meters, as runners who have improved signifcantly and could be players in the postseason.
'Andy Fader had a phenomenal track season; he's improved a ton,' says Metcalf. 'Ben Koss, too, has been terrific at longer distances in the spring, and is someone I expect to be heard from this fall.'
Joining the veterans are a group of talented freshmen comprising what Metcalf calls the most talented class in his tenure, a group headlined by state 3A cross-country champ Jesse Fayant.
When listing his top runners for 2002, Metcalf lists practically all 23 Huskies on the roster. While some may take that as coach-speak, it is in fact reflective of what Metcalf believes is at the core of Washington's 2002 men's squad.
'We have more depth than we've ever had,' the coach says. 'When you've got five guys that all believe they can be your No. 1, and they go out and run that way, you're going to beat some people. That's what I'm most excited to see.'