2008 Men's Cross Country Season Preview
Sept. 11, 2008
The 2008 Huskies should rebound from their absence from the 2007 NCAA Championships with the return of an outstanding group of upperclassmen as well as the growth of several up and coming underclassmen. It is a group that is somewhat unproven but could steadily gain momentum with the mix of veteran leadership and young talent. Head Coach Greg Metcalf, when asked to speak on the presence of frontrunners Jeremy Mineau, Jake Schmitt, and Jon Harding, clearly stated, 'They provide our men's group with not only ability on race day, but also a calming influence in our daily practice that will do wonders in helping us accomplish our goals for the 2008 season and beyond.'
'At the end of every season it's the coaches' job to evaluate where we are, where we're headed, what we've done, and then evaluate personnel,' said Metcalf. 'At the end of last year we clearly fell short of our goals, and as a coaching staff and program, we made a concerted effort to ensure that would not happen in coming years. This summer seeing the commitment to consistency in training from our young men showed that not only would we be prepared for success, but that we're working with a more mature group than we've had in several years, mentally and emotionally.'
Mineau's return for his senior season is expected to invigorate the team. He was Washington's top finisher at the NCAA Championships in 2005 and 2006, and brings leadership on the course that Metcalf expects will benefit the team as a whole. Mineau boasts top 10 finishes at the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA West Regionals, and carries one of the finest running resumes of any Husky in Metcalf's stint as UW Head Coach.
'Jeremy's return to our team is substantial. He just has a certain level of confidence. That's the kind of athlete we missed last year. Not only is Jeremy an instant improvement to our team from a running standpoint, but his knowledge and passion for the sport instantaneously infuses our group with something special. Whether he's 100% or not, you know he is going to have an outstanding attitude. That transfers to race day when he's standing on the starting line; you know he's going to go beat people.'
Looking to catapult off a great first track season with the program is Jake Schmitt. A transfer from Cal, Schmitt ran unattached during the cross country season before shining on the track and reaching the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 10,000-meters. He also ran under 29-minutes in the 10K, something only two other Huskies have ever done, one of which is Mineau.
'Jake made significant strides, running major personal bests at every distance on the track,' said Metcalf. 'He has been an indescribable addition to our team, and gives us yet another guy who has a mind and body prepared to be at the front of every race we enter into this season.'
Harding, voted the Team MVP last season, opened the season as if shot from a cannon, winning the Sundodger Invitational in a meet and course record time. He led UW in three of five varsity races, including a career-best 20th-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships. With moments of real excellence on the track and his best cross country season under his belt, he appears poised for another stellar season of running over grass.
'Jon showed flashes of brilliance last year, starting with the Sundodger,' said Metcalf. 'Now with the addition of Jeremy and Jake into our front group, I think it gives Jon just what he needs in finding comfort in the front of workouts and races. With this being his last season I think he is expecting great things and he always gives it his all when he sets foot on the course.'
Perhaps the Huskies' most consistent runner last season was Kelly Spady, now entering his junior season. Spady led the Huskies at the Bill Dellinger Invite and at NCAA Regionals and his continued growth as a top contender could give UW a significant boost.
'Kelly's very talented,' said Metcalf. 'He was our number one guy at the end of last year and followed that with a solid track season in his sophomore season. With a setback this summer, we don't expect him to return to our group until mid-October, but it should provide a nice jolt to our group as we approach championship season.'
With the decision to redshirt last year's freshman standout Max O'Donoghue-McDonald, senior Caleb Knox will be relied upon for steady performance up front, and appears ready to jump at the opportunity. The two best races of his career came in Washington's two postseason meets last year, as Knox finished second among Huskies at Pac-10's, and third at West Regionals, despite only running in the top-five once before in his career.
'In listening to Caleb talk, he's full of expectations and confident with our group, and he's worked hard and finally come into his own, and I'm excited about what he's going to go do this fall,' Metcalf said.
Three juniors and one sophomore pad the Huskies' depth and could be poised for a breakout along the lines of Knox last fall. Juniors Chris Ahl, Jordan Swarthout, and Colton Tully-Doyle all turned in solid seasons both in cross country and track and field last year and could put all the pieces in place in 2008. Tully-Doyle ran in the Dawgs' top-seven at the two postseason meets, as did sophomore Riley Booker, who should also greatly benefit from his first year of college race experience.
'Chris Ahl is a very talented young man and put in yet another great summer of training. If the culmination of years of experience and talent are any determinant, Chris is going to be a real factor this fall,' said Metcalf. 'Looking at the rest of our team, Jordan Swarthout was running as well as anyone on our team at the end of last season. I asked the guys who they thought the top-seven guys were going to be and everybody had him at least in the top 10 and some guys had him in the top five. They see that Jordan has put his nose to the grindstone this summer. Last year was the first competitive year for Colton Tully-Doyle, and he has built upon it with by far his best summer of training.'
While freshmen rarely star on the collegiate level, taking time to adjust to the longer distances, they can still be significant contributors, as O'Donoghue-McDonald can attest after his 2007 season. This year four freshmen are welcomed to the fold, led by a pair of local recruits in Joey Bywater of Lake Stevens and Rob Webster, Jr. of Puyallup. Bywater won three Washington state 4A track titles and was the cross country second-place finisher his junior year. Webster, whose father was the former 800m school record holder, was runner-up at the state 4A cross country meet in 2007.
'Joey Bywater was in our opinion the guy we had to have in our program. He is gifted mentally and physically, possesses great racing instincts, and has a toughness that will serve him well in college,' said Metcalf. 'We believe those tools will propel him to be something special in our program. Rob certainly bleeds purple and gold from his father, but is a very accomplished distance runner in his own right. He is a great competitor and will be a fun one to coach because he will do all he is asked to become great. We will most likely keep our freshmen group at bay and allow them to adapt to all of the training and environmental changes here, and prepare them for future seasons.'
Taking stock of the team as a whole, Metcalf sees a desire and attitude reminiscent of Washington's 12th-place NCAA squad from just two years ago. That group rode a total team effort to one of the best seasons in program history. Several members of that team remain, including the three seniors on the roster--Mineau, Harding, and Knox--who have shared the peaks and valleys inherent to any distance runner, and are determined to make the trek back to Terre Haute and the NCAA Championships.
'Making the national meet is always the expectation, and I see great potential in these men,' said Metcalf. 'Realizing our full capability as a unit depends on our group working together and having a great collective attitude, staying healthy, and firing on all cylinders once the calendar turns to November. Getting to the NCAA meet from the West Region is always a challenge. With the variables currently in place for our team, it is a real possibility that we will go to the national meet and perhaps be a surprise team in Indiana.'