The Finishing Kick with Cross Country Coaches Jimmy Bean and Kelly Strong

Oct. 29, 2007

This past Saturday in Corvallis, Ore., the Washington cross country squads competed in the Pac-10 Championships. Jon Harding led the men to a sixth-place finish in the day's first race, then Anita Campbell led four Husky women in the top-15 of the women's race, helping the No. 9 women tie for third behind the top-two teams in the nation. Assistant Coaches Jimmy Bean and Kelly Strong provide recaps of the day's events, with Coach Bean focusing on the men, and Coach Strong on the women.

Assistant Coach Jimmy Bean

Friday's practice day did not have the most ideal conditions for running cross-country. Fortunately, as our men's team arrived at Trysting Tree Golf Course on Saturday morning, we were exposed to beautiful sunshine illuminating a golf course with a colorful arrangement of trees, green grass, and a well-marked course. What else could we ask for? In the following comments, you will see that we could have asked for a better team score. Other than that, it was a trip that was full of a lot of positives, and only time will tell if it was an opportunity for our men's group to get better.

As our men's team warmed up, it was difficult to gauge the way our men's team would race, and that always lends itself to a lot of fear. Entering into the race, we had a lot of question marks with two of our top guys, Jon Harding and Carl Moe, battling injuries that changed their race preparation. In addition to these two guys, we were racing seven men who did not race in last year's Pac-10 Championships. True to our suspicions, our men raced unpredictably. It was a tough race to watch unfold, but before giving further detail, I am confident that our men's group learned a lot from this meet, and will become better individually and collectively at the NCAA West Region Championships.

With the race being led out in 4:37 by Galen Rupp and Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott, both of Oregon, and both guys who could contend for the NCAA individual title, the race went out at an alarming pace. With our guys scattered between 15th and 50th place after the first mile, it was hard to see where our men were. Following the 2nd mile, it was easy to see that our men were now pinned back behind the top 20, and we didn't have a runner penetrating the front.

Midway through the race, Jon Harding was making a charge to the front and beginning to give us a presence up front. With Oregon, Cal-Berkeley, and Stanford dominating the front twenty spots, our men followed behind by several seconds. Due to an ongoing IT (iliotibial) band issue, it was evident that Carl was struggling with being fluid, and would not be right there with Jon. Max O'Donoghue-McDonald, our lone true freshman, followed along and trailed closely behind Kelly Spady throughout the final half of the race.

At about 6k, one of the bright spots of our day, Caleb Knox, continued to run solidly right around 30th place. Caleb, who is the consummate athlete and teammate, was in the midst of putting together a solid race, and it was exciting to see him battling with some of the better runners in the Pac-10. Caleb, who has shown signs of being a contributor out front for us, had not run in our top-five to date this year, and it gives hope to both Caleb and his teammates that there are good things awaiting us in a couple weeks.

Jon raced to the finish in 20th place (23:34), followed by Caleb's fine 33rd place showing (23:52), and then Kelly Spady in 37th place (23:59). With Max and Carl coming in at 40th (24:04) and 47th (24:07), respectively, it was easy to see that we had just put a lot of points on the board, and placed 6th overall, ahead of Washington State and Arizona. As our men's team went on their warm down, I had this feeling that this was one struggle we would learn from. A group full of character and determination, this is an opportunity for our men to once again add to their reputation for having such qualities.

With the race concluded, it was evident that our men's team had just completed its second disappointing race in an as many efforts. That being said, we leave Corvallis with a lot of positives to build upon. We will add 2,000 meters to the race distance in two weeks, and that suits our personnel in ways that we believe will help us. We also witnessed our women's team, following the men's race, contend with several of the best teams in the country and show that they will be a factor in the championship phase of our season. Assistant Coach Kelly Strong gives her insight on the race, and talks about the momentum building among our ladies' squad...

Assistant Coach Kelly Strong

We arrived as a team to the cross country course at beautiful Trysting Tree Golf Course on Friday, the day before the meet. With 40-mph winds, it made for an interesting run through the course. The winds were very gusty, but were supposed to calm down in the morning at race time. Our women's group of 10 athletes sought out the course in preparation for the 10:30 am start the following morning. We found the course to be in excellent condition for being in the northwest in late October. The ground was smooth, hard, and very fast. Without the strong winds, we were anticipating a quick pace from the start.

As our bus departed at 6:30 am for the course on Saturday, our women simply wanted to improve upon their previous performance at the Pre-National Meet. From the start of the season, these young ladies have gotten better every week and are getting closer and closer to the front of each race. With four of the top nine teams in the country competing at the Conference Championship, we all knew it would be a battle out there. Coming in as the ninth ranked team (fourth in the Pac-10), our goals were simple: improve from two weeks ago and run with three great teams in Stanford (#1), Oregon (#2), and Arizona State (#5). We were confident in our women, and most importantly, they were eager to get out there and compete with the best. They were ready for the challenge and for this next 'stepping stone' of their season.

The gun fired and our women went to the front with the knowledge that they belong among the best teams in the conference and the country. Anita Campbell, like she has been all year, was in the lead pack from the start. She was out great and as usual, looked very relaxed up front. Not far behind was Katie Follett, Amanda Miller, and Mel Lawrence. Coming off good training, these three knew they could push into the top ten if they felt good and raced smart. A little further back, but in good position was Trisha Rasmussen, who early on, established herself as our No. 5 girl, which would be crucial in the last spot in the team scoring.

At about halfway, the Dawgs were in fourth place trailing Stanford, Oregon and ASU. There were clearly more Husky fans out there on the course than any other school, and that was exciting for our coaches and athletes to see. All the people wearing purple were lining the course at almost every turn, cheering for the Huskies. Anita was in a battle for fourth place running with a couple runners from ASU and Oregon. She looked great and was locked into a top-six finish. Katie, Mel, and Amanda were running in a big pack for most of the race. They looked controlled and were ready to move up as the race progressed and as our fans yelled at them the remaining mile of the course. Trisha continued to move up and was running great. She could see ahead to Amanda, and we were running very well through our fifth. Lauren Saylor and Brooke Anderson were also moving through the field, making our top-7 group very strong.

Coming down the final stretch, Anita was leading our team to a great finish. She crossed the finish line with a personal best time of 20:10 and good enough for an outstanding 6th-place. Anita continues to improve each year, as she was 18th in the Pac-10 as a freshman, and 9th last year as a sophomore. Not far behind, Katie was charging through the field passing a handful of athletes. She crossed the line in 9th place in 20:26 and improved from her 79th place in 2006. Mel and Amanda ran through a pack as well, and finished very strong. Mel (13th place in 20:34) and Amand (15th place in 20:38) both ran well as our solid Nos. 3 and 4 runners. Only 18 seconds back was senior Trisha Rasmussen who ran her best race of the season and dropped under 21:00 for the first time in her career. She finished in 25th place and ran 20:56. Brooke was the next Husky finisher, setting a huge personal best in 21:18, which earned her a 37th place finish in her first Pac-10 Cross Country Championships. Lauren, also running well, ran a personal best time of 21:27, 41st place.

Upon finishing, our women knew we had run well. It was not a perfect day, but it was another step in the right direction. We continue to get better and know that in two weeks, and again nine days later, we will be even further along and ready to crack into those next team spots. With the end goal of the NCAA Championships (Nov. 19th) in all of our minds, our women warmed down knowing that we had a solid day and are in pursuit of greater things in the next meet on the schedule. At the end of our day, we learned that we tied the No. 5 team, ASU, with 68 points. Oregon was a mere four points ahead of us in 2nd-place with 64 points. Stanford won for the 12th-straight title with 48 points. The Husky women headed back to Seattle with supreme confidence, knowing that we can run with the teams ahead of us. The next few weeks will prove to be very exciting, so stay tuned for our women moving just a little bit closer to the goal!

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