The Finishing Kick with the NCAA Champions

Dec. 19, 2008

The 2008 cross country season came with lofty expectations for the Husky women's team. They went above and beyond every one of them, rolling to dominant wins in every race of the season to bring the program's first National Championship trophy back to Seattle. Along the way the team swept the top six spots at the Pac-10 Championships, defeated 2nd-ranked Oregon in three-straight meets, and produced five All-Americans. Here, in their own words, the top-seven women plus assistant coach Kelly Strong look back on what made the season such an historic success and what they'll most cherish from the experience.

Freshman Christine Babcock - Irvine, Calif. - 7th at Nationals

The trip to Nationals was incredible. From having the whole athletic department, Harry the Husky, and even athletic director Scott Woodward running with the bus as we departed to the airport, to holding the trophy after we learned we were National Champions, the memories from that weekend will forever be etched in my mind.

The race itself went pretty well. Standing on the starting line with six other girls who all had the same goal in mind, doing the best we could for each other, allowed me to tune out all of the hype and pressure that was placed upon us by the outside world. It was very cold out and the wind made it even worse. The footing on the course was firm, indicating that times would probably be fast, something that the coaches had talked to us about beforehand. The gun went off and this was the moment we had been waiting for the entire season: the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Ultimately, I believe that our team was so successful because of the unity that we possess. All season we had been working together, whether it be pushing each other in a workout, eating dinner together at Training Table, or just the day-to-day interactions that we had. We were striving towards one goal and everyone bought into the belief that we could be National Champions. The hard work, belief in each other, belief in the coaches, and belief in the training all culminated in the National Championship that we were able to bring to Seattle.

Out of the entire season, there are 3 memories that I am particularly fond of. The first occurred at Pac-10s. Going 1-6 was unheard of in Pac-10 history, let alone the fact that the #2 team in the nation was in our race. The second was the entire Nationals experience. I am certain that I could not have asked for a better way to start my collegiate career and I feel so blessed to have been a part of everything we accomplished this year. Finally, being honored at the men's basketball game versus Oklahoma State was exhilarating. I have never felt anything like what the ecstatic crowd in the Bank of America Arena compelled me to feel. Their excitement and appreciation of what we had accomplished was inspiring.

If I were to choose one word to encapsulate the entire season, I would choose blessed. I feel blessed to have been a part of this incredible team. I feel blessed to have the coaches that we have. I feel blessed to have had the dedicated fans that traveled all the way to Terre Haute. I feel blessed to have had the presence of each one of the girls on the team in my life. Most importantly, I feel blessed to have been given such an amazing gift from God.

Senior Anita Campbell - Vancouver, B.C. - 51st at Nationals

Our trip to Nationals was a once in a lifetime experience. I have no doubt that our program will continue its success in the years to come, but to know that we won the first National Championship for UW in cross country is something we will carry with us forever.

I was definitely nervous before the race. I think we all were. There was only one way that we were going to walk away from Terre Haute happy with our races, and that was winning. But that expectation wasn't different from any other race that we ran this season, so we knew we couldn't let the nerves get to us. We stood on the line freezing cold, but ready to run. Katie, Christine and Kendra took off from the line and got a good start while Lauren, Amanda, Mel and I managed to find ourselves swept up in the back of the big pack. Eventually we all moved and found positions past the 2k marker.

We had a good laugh with Katie afterwards as she explained herself running in the front of the race yelling, 'Anita!....Mel!....Anita?...Mel?' We were so used to running together in our previous races that it caused some panic as she didn't have any idea where we were. But in true Follett fashion she pulled through, looked ahead and got her second All-American award in cross country. To be able to say that our team has five All-Americans and placed all seven in the top-50 on that Indiana course, against such talented competition, is such an accomplishment and is a testament to the progress our program has made in just one year.

I have enjoyed my season from beginning to end and I am so glad to have shared this opportunity with each of the girls on the team. I can't wait to see what the future holds!

Junior Katie Follett - Fort Collins, Colo. - 26th at Nationals

As I stood on the line Monday, November 24th I knew that we were ready. Although the familiar feeling of butterflies crept into my stomach I refused to dwell on expectations or pressures. I was focused on the next 20 minutes because that was the only thing I had any sort of control over. As we stood in a circle and glanced around into each others eyes, offering up final words of encouragement, I saw the same determination in each of my teammates' eyes that it made my heart swell with pride to be wearing the same uniform as them. Each of these girls was tough as nails and knew that this would not be handed to us, we would have to fight. As we stood, muscles tensed waiting for the firing of the gun, I had total confidence that each girl was up to the challenge and ready for battle. The wind chilled us to the bone, but as we pushed off the line the bit of numbness in my toes was quickly forgotten.

The surge off the line was aggressive, and in the course of a few seconds our group was broken apart. I could see Christine and Kendra in the lead pack just a few seconds ahead of me, but I panicked slightly when I failed to find Anita or Mel. I took a deep breath and yelled out, 'ANITA!' 'MEL!' but there was no response. I hoped that they hadn't been tripped up in the beginning of the race chaos, but I knew that no matter what happened they would find a way to stay calm, cool, collected and do what we did everyday: run. These thoughts in my head, I kept my eyes up, focused on Kendra and Christine.

The 6k Terre Haute course has a little bit of everything to test the body: rolling hills, uneven footing, thick grass and mud. As I approached the 4k mark, Mel came up on my side. I gained momentum from her and we began to move up.

As we crossed the finish line, I turned and saw Amanda and Lauren crossing the finish line. At that point, I knew that we had won. Hugging each other, we waited for a few minutes to hear the official results. I thought back to high school, to all the times I had been on a top ranked team that had never won. When we got the official word, it was a surreal moment. We had actually done it! All the dreaming, all the hard work, all the tears and sweat had paid off. Our individual performances varied, some of us had the best race of the season while others of us had hoped for higher individual finishes. The excitement of the team title washed over all of us, regardless of how we had accomplished it, the bottom line was that we had.

Sophomore Mel Lawrence - Reno, Nev. - 25th at Nationals

If I had to use one word to describe this season, it would be unforgettable. We started the season off with dominant performances at Sundodger and Auburn; started the championship portion of the season with an awesome performance at Pre-Nats, followed that with an unprecedented victory at Pac-10s, and a strong win at Regionals. What better way could there be to cap off this season than with a national championship?

The trip to Terre Haute was one that none of us will be forgetting soon. One of the best parts of this trip was having the men's team there with us. We have a combined program, so our men's and women's teams are really close. They give us more support than we could ever ask for. Having them in Terre Haute with us made the trip seem more complete.

Race day felt very comfortable; no different than any other day we toe the line. With our team having such good 'synergy', we kept each other calm and ready to race. Coach Metcalf also kept us feeling calm giving us our pre-race talk as if it were just another race.

Out of the whole experience, the moment and the feeling just after the race is what I will remember most. All seven of us girls were standing in a circle together waiting to hear the results. After hearing 'the Washington women have won,' they handed us our trophy and a feeling of joy swept over us all. From tears to smiling faces I've never seen so much happiness and sheer joy in one area before. Being handed the trophy was as rewarding as anything any of us could have ever asked for.

With this unforgettable season under our belts, the Huskies are looking toward an outstanding track season and many great seasons of cross country in the years to come. This season has set the bar for what we expect as a team and gives us a sense of direction for our upcoming track season. I'm excited to see what the future holds for this amazing team. Go Dawgs!

Senior Amanda Miller - Wenatchee, Wash. - 34th at Nationals

Little did I know six months ago that the words slipping past my lips, in response to inquiries of my intentions for the fall cross country season, would actually manifest themselves for us November 24.

I remember my words exactly, probably because it was what I said to everyone who asked me if I was going to run this fall: 'Well, of course; I have to come back to help UW win the National title this year.'

At the time, the comment may have sounded a little pretentious to those oblivious to the degree of firepower our 2008 team was prepared to test the nation with. However, from day one on September 1, and with each successive week, the idea transformed from a mere wishful dream-goal to a tangible reality. With each race, the goal solidified as the expectation for ourselves - and we operated accordingly, every single day, both at and away from practice.

To me, that was the most fascinating, inspirational aspect of this season: the infectious power of belief, unwavering determination, and teammate support working harmoniously to tackle, head-on, the boldest goal.

More than anything, this season has taught me what it means to be a cross-country team. Before it was, 'Yeah, I run cross country for UW,' or, 'I did this well in the race.' This season it was, 'We did this well as a team,' oft forgetting to even mention how I performed individually, as I was more concerned with how few team points we scored, or our 1 through 5, 7, and 10 spreads. It was more exciting to see how we did as a whole than individually.

Maybe that's why Pac-10's was such an emotional high. Anyone one can go and win a race hypothetically, and sure, any team can have a few people in the top 10-15 spots, but to test our strength for the first time against our biggest competition with such success as going 1-6, was one of the most exciting and rewarding races of my career - and my 6th place finish didn't even score for our team!

Granted we were still two weeks away from Nationals, and anything can happen there, but in my mind, Pac-10's all but sealed the deal for us. I couldn't help but think that we mentally just drove a destructive nail into the side of challengers nationwide.

Knowing we haven't earned the right to truly celebrate yet, reminders to 'not underestimate our competitors' capabilities,' and to 'stay determined and hungry for victory,' circulated to prevent us from getting careless about the ensuing big day.

Some people wondered if we felt the heat from the targets on our back, but for me, the consistent team success put me at ease on the starting line, knowing that all we have to do is exactly what we have been doing all season. We didn't need any miracles, or any super human performances. Ironically, I think that our team as a whole was probably a little too at ease for the first 2k of the national race. In fact, it was the least aggressive we have been off the line all season.

I don't remember what he said, but the look on Coach Metcalf's face at that point in the race, said all we needed to know: we needed to kick it into gear immediately. Our 3 through 7 girls responded (1 and 2 had secured perfect positions), weaving our way through the masses in the chilling, crisp autumn air. Though it was far from perfect, ultimately we got the job done (I mean come on, we had to contribute a few grey hairs to coach's head--he had it way too easy this season).

I thought winning an individual national title would be the most rewarding running accomplishment in college but, now that the glow of glory gets to be enjoyed with some of the sweetest, most fabulous girls I know, I wouldn't have it any other way.What a remarkable, dreamlike, privileged adventure this has been. It was a textbook fantasy of a season. I feel blessed to have witnessed, let alone participated in such a pure, beautiful and excellent execution of the highest of NCAA aspirations. I suspect the afterglow of our triumph will only grow sweeter with time.

So thank you to the UW and its supporters and my family and friends for your encouragement and support. Thank you to the coaches for your guidance, patience and belief in us. Most importantly, thank you to the young women I am honored to call my teammates for the dedication and sacrifices you have made, for going out on a limb to be the best team in the nation, for pushing the girl in front of you and next to you to be a better runner, for believing, for your steadfastness, the memories, the hugs and for making this season an unforgettable end to my days of racing in the purple and gold.

Sophomore Lauren Saylor - Clovis, Calif. - 41st at Nationals

Coming to Terre Haute for this moment, to finally put all of our hard work, beliefs and expectations into one race, was more exciting than words can describe. We have made huge improvements from just one year ago, for many reasons.

Coach always mentions our team synergy as a huge part of our success, which is one of the things we pride ourselves on. We completely trust each other and are putting out our hardest effort, knowing that the other girls are doing the exact same thing. There is no other group of six girls who I'd rather have by my side on the starting line.

On race day, I felt eerily calm and throughout the race I felt this peace about me that is very odd considering the thousands of fans yelling in our ears and the hundreds of bodies racing around me. I knew what we came here to do and knew that we would do everything in our power to succeed. There are so many reasons for our success besides our chemistry, another factor being the role the senior leaders have played throughout their whole college career.

Amanda and Anita are the two toughest runners I know and probably the most experienced, which helps to calm a group of young runners at a big championship. I know they are role models for many, not just myself, for they have developed into the nation's best and are two of the most down to earth, kind-hearted people I've ever known. They have set the bar high when it comes to success and hard work, making me even more excited for the future. What they have helped start this season isn't graduating with them, but will carry over into our team as a whole for what we hope to be a very, very long time.

I think that no matter what happens in the future, this National Championship will mean the most to me because we've started something most people can't imagine. The improvements and changes in the girls around me is inspirational and a testament to what we have achieved. So few people are as blessed, to have the family that we have here.

Freshman Kendra Schaaf - Craven, Saskatchewan - 12th at Nationals

This cross country season is the one season I will remember for the rest of my life. This season was the first time I have actually run for a team and been really interested in team scores. I could not have asked for a better group of girls to be surrounded by. From the first day of practice there has never been any huge gap between the freshman girls and the upperclassmen. As the season progressed, we became even closer to the point that leaving for nationals in Terre Haute and then going home for Thanksgiving was such a long time for us to be away from each other. We missed each other and were so excited to see each other when we got back from break.

Coming onto the team and running in college, I did not really know what to expect. For me the transition was smooth and easy, which is because of all the fantastic teammates I had and the support from my coaches. My first collegiate race was one of the most exciting races I've run. I had a lot of fun and got a taste of what it's like to run for a team. It was great having our first race here in Seattle in front of a home crowd. Travelling to Auburn I would say was the most fun. Pre-Nats and Pac-10s had a little more pressure since we were ranked number one as a team and had all the eyes on us. We handled the pressure very well and did everything we had expected of ourselves.

Pre-Nats in Terre Haute was our first big race and I, as with probably the rest of the girls, was very nervous. I was finally in Terre Haute at the famous course racing against girls that I had read about for the past few years. We were here to show everyone that the number one ranking was not a fluke! Then being back in Terre Haute for nationals we were a bundle of excitement and nerves. Good thing we always had Anita there, telling us what to do. She had been to Terre Haute so many times before and knew exactly what we needed to do. There was a huge celebration in the chute after the race. We had finally done it! It was all over and we were the 2008 Cross Country Nationals Champions! It was a great finish to cross country for Anita and Amanda. As for the rest of us, it was a great start to all of the amazing things we are going to accomplish the next few years.

This whole cross country season was one of the best experiences of my life. It was an awesome way to start my college career. I have learned so many valuable lessons from the coaches and every other girl on the team. We had a great season and we are going to keep rolling with what we have going!

Assistant Coach Kelly Strong

I could write about the nationals experience and what it meant to us, but to me what is more important, are the seven women that competed on November 24th and how they got to that day. What they did as individuals was incredible--but even more amazing was how they came together as a team and were steadfast in their approach from day one.

Anita: What an amazing leader! Any coach would dream of having an athlete like Anita. She leads by example and not only has high expectations for herself but for her teammates. As coaches, we have always believed in Anita, knowing she would come through when it mattered. A year ago, after finishing 20th at NCAAs, she told Coach Metcalf she would have to work hard to make our team the following year. If that was the case, she told him, 'we will win Nationals.' No matter what runner Anita ended up being on race day, it never mattered as she was the leader who put her team first and carried them to the championship.

Amanda: The hardest worker ever! Amanda was extremely diligent and determined in her approach to the season. She competed at the Olympic Trials in July, then had a short time to prepare and train for the cross country season. Her goals early on: Help the team to the NCAA title and become a Cross Country All-American. Upon completion of the fall she was smiling ear to ear in having accomplished all of her goals. She was a tremendous role model in the way she trained and her commitment to her sport, her teammates, and her coaches.

Katie: Katie was probably as excited as anyone entering the season because she understood fully what the potential was for 2008. She is very dedicated on a daily basis and certainly entertains all of us on runs, at practice, and traveling down the road. Katie has improved every season she has been at Washington and will continue to do so. The look on her face as she held the trophy after the nationals race is my favorite memory from the championship season. To see that much happiness, passion and joy on her face was was a moment we will all never forget.

Lauren: It's been said many times, but it is a perfect example of sheer determination. Lauren, as a freshman, crawled across the finish line to finish last place in her first NCAA meet. She walked away from the course with a smile on her face proud because she was part of something special (a program best 8th-place finish). She had the confidence in herself to move forward, learn and get better from the experience. So for the next 365 days, everything she did was aimed for the following year in Terre Haute where she set goals to run under 20:40 and become an All-American. Although she was one-tenth of a second away from the accolade, she has made unbelievable progress since last fall. As her dad told her after Nationals, 'This is just the beginning.'

Mel: From the very first race of the season at Sundodger, I knew Mel was back! After redshirting the track season, she came in this fall in great shape and fully prepared to help her team to the best of her ability. As consistent as any athlete on our team, she was dialed in the entire season and ready to do the very best she could on race day. Mel became the team's emotional leader early on and carried the team on race day...especially at Pre-Nationals when she gave a very memorable pre-race talk! It was fun to watch Mel in practice, running with Anita, and then on race day having incredible race composure and working her way through every field. Mel is an amazing talent and was vital to the team's success. Her future will be extremely fun to watch!

Kendra: What a great fit for our team! Kendra is obviously very talented and added so much to our group, especially in races and workout days as she paved the way. She helped lead our team to an undefeated season and established herself as a prominent force in the NCAA. The pictures and footage from her winning the Pac-10 Championships show just how talented she is as she covered that cross country course looking incredibly smooth and graceful. She will continue to excel and will be very fun to watch in the months and years to come. Kendra was a great addition to our team and certainly kept us laughing throughout the year.

Christine: She is an unbelievably tough competitor! We were impressed with CB every time she crossed a finish line. No matter what her preparation was before the meet, she would race to the best of her ability. She has a great belief in herself and balanced approach to competing. Watching the National Championships, you wouldn't guess she was just a freshman. Like every other meet, she ran with confidence in herself and put forth her best effort for just over 20 minutes. Christine had an absolutely fantastic first season and the door is just opening for her--like her teammates, the future will be very exciting!

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