2015 Husky Event Preview: Distances
With Saturday’s UW Indoor Preview, the 2015 track campaign begins along with the Dempsey Indoor schedule which will bring thousands of the nation’s top college athletes to the Husky home facility. To preview the upcoming season, GoHuskies.com talked to some of the coaches for each event along with several of the team’s top returners. The distance runners are the focus here, returning to work after the cross country season.
Both of the Husky cross country squads advanced to the NCAA Championships in the fall, the first time that’s happened since 2009. Three Huskies came away with All-America honors for top-40 finishes: Aaron Nelson, picking up his second-straight, and first-timers Tyler King and Maddie Meyers. Those three look to continue rolling into the track season, but the whole group should benefit from gaining the national championship-level experience in November.
The women’s group should also look significantly different on the track with the addition of All-Americans Katie Flood and Liberty Miller, who were both top-15 finishers at the NCAA Outdoor meet last year, but did not have cross country eligibility left in the fall. Also returning to action will be Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight, who redshirted the fall but have impressed Coach Metcalf in practice.
The Husky mid-distance crew also gets to put their work to the test starting this week. That includes defending Pac-12 800-meter champion Derrick Daigre, and All-American returners such as Nick Harris and Baylee Mires. The men’s distance medley relay won the MPSF title last year and was eighth at the NCAA Indoor meet, and all five members that ran on that squad return this year.
All-Americans as of November, Tyler King and Maddie Meyers helped preview the track season along with Coach Metcalf.
Questions for Tyler King
GoHuskies: How do you think the group will be able to build off of the NCAA Championship appearance in the fall?
Tyler King: I think the fall, we made it to the show for the first time in a couple years, and that was the first goal for the team, so that was pretty big. But finishing 20th when we had been ranked as high as 11th or 12th in the fall was kind of a letdown. But I think we’ve carried some of the momentum that we gathered. There was a little break after the cross season, but all of us got back after it come December. Over winter break there was a pretty big group of us that were here. The winter’s always a little weird, because you’ve trained so long and then you take a little break so you come into the winter maybe not as roaring to go as, say, the sprinters, but we just have good momentum and we’re overall pretty healthy right now, so that’s always big.
GH: With your All-America honor, will you be aiming for the 5k during the indoor season and trying to get to nationals there?
TK: Yeah I think that’s the goal. I think we’ll build up slowly, run a mile at the Preview, then 3k at the Invite, and then 5k at the Classic and try to go get a qualifier. It’s been eighteen months since I’ve been on the track, so it will take a little time to get back into the swing of things, but hopefully I will have a good shot in the 5k.
GK: The mid-distance guys are the ones that really get to start rolling during the indoor season, so how have you seen their training up to now?
TK: I’m pretty excited to see what they’ve got. Kyle Blume gets a fifth year, and he’s been pretty consistent all fall so I’m excited for him, and Derrick (Daigre) obviously had a fantastic season and will be looking to chase that school record I think and get back in the NCAA final. Then Nick Harris and Blake Nelson, they struggled early in the fall a bit with some sickness and injuries but over the last couple months they’ve got their feet under them and their heads are where they need to be, so it should be fun.
GH: Is there anyone else you’re looking at that could be flying under the radar that you’re exited to see race?
TK: I think Johnny Stevens is a guy that comes to mind. He came on pretty decently at the end of cross after sitting out last year with some injuries. I think mentally and emotionally he’s pretty invested, and he’s talented, so if he can string together some consistently healthy weeks, I think he’ll be a little bit of a surprise. Also, our freshman crew will be fun to watch. Fred Huxham ran late in the cross season, but 8k and 10k is hard as a freshman, but him and Mahmoud are going to go and run at the Junior National Cross Country Championships, and I’ve seen them put in a lot of work so I think it’ll be fun to see what they can do there and on the track as well.
GH: A number of guys on the roster have made the NCAA first round and beyond now, do you sense a lot of guys pushing to take that next step?
TK: The dream is that every person that’s in a jersey can make the first round. A lot of those guys have been there. Just looking back at my sophomore experience, when me and Aaron and Daigre made it, when you’re there the first time, you’re kind of there not really expecting to advance. So this time I think a lot of us can get there and we’ll be trying to get to the next step. You see those 1,500 guys, and Colby (Gilbert) runs for the first time this spring, we can be pretty dangerous when it comes down to it.
Questions for Maddie Meyers
GoHuskies: It’s almost been two months now since the cross country season ended so how has everything gone since that race?
Maddie Meyers: Everything is feeling good. I took a little bit of a low-key week after nationals, and then kind of eased back into it. Right now it’s a lot of strength work, so everything’s a little sore, but it feels fine, which is good.
GH: You redshirted last season, so you’ve only raced in the Dempsey a few times as a Husky, so is it exciting to get back in there this year?
MM: Yeah, freshman year was my only time so far. It’s weird to think that my third year of cross country is over, but I still have three years left of track. So it’s exciting to know that I still have a little time, but yeah it has been a while since racing in the Dempsey so I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to run the 3k this weekend and just see how that goes. I never really thought of myself moving up to the 5k and being that type of runner, but I think I’m kind of curious now, and so are the coaches, to see what might happen, so maybe at some point, but for now just the mile and 3k, and we’ll see which goes better.
GH: Did earning All-America honors in the fall give you any more confidence or change how you were looking at this track season at all?
MM: I was very excited for where I ended up, and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. But then it made me realize that getting to that next level, being in that top group, is not that far away. So I just realized that it was a lot more doable than I originally thought it was going to be. It gets me excited to get racing more and see what happens.
GH: How has the rest of the squad from the fall looked so far getting back into training?
MM: They’ve been good. Our team was so young, and I know that freshman year it’s a hard transition with cross country—the race is longer, and I feel like your body just feels more beat up, but I think they did a good job of just backing off a little. Everyone came back in January refreshed and ready to go. I think our team is built mostly with mid-distance runners, we only really have Kaylee (Flanagan) looking to run the 10k at the moment, so everyone’s excited to get on the track where for some of them it suits their strengths a little bit more.
GH: The big change for your group on the track is now you add back in several runners, Katie Flood and Liberty Miller in their fifth years, and then Amy-Eloise and Katie Knight coming back from injuries. That’s a lot of potential firepower, so how are they doing?
MM: It’s definitely exciting to be back running with them every day. I feel like in cross you get so wrapped up with the group that is traveling, so it’s nice when you start adding back in those other pieces, because it balances everything out and they are the greatest teammates. They’re awesome to run with, great to train with, and I think everyone’s just excited to see what they do. They are very talented girls and everyone is expecting a good track season for them.
GH: The 800-meter group also gets to stretch out their legs a bit this weekend now, what have you seen from them?
MM: They are pretty tough. We just did 3-2-1’s on the track, and it was kind of fun to watch them from behind. They were in that front group and they’re just very fast. Baylee (Mires) has run quick in the past, and in high school Rose (Christen) and Hannah (Derby) have been really speedy in both the 400 and the 800 so I think we’re excited to see that speed, and hopefully we can put together some really good DMRs and see some great results indoors from them.
Questions for Coach Metcalf
GoHuskies: Most of the men on the cross country squad had the best falls of their college careers, so how is that group feeling switching over the track?
Coach Metcalf: Our young men, the fall was fun, and I think they were excited and that group made a lot of progress, which in the last few years means good things are coming in the track season. Nelly will have a few more weeks before he gets rolling, but ultimately he’ll be full strength at the end of the indoor season and moving into the outdoor season. Tyler King is a new man. He comes off of earning his first All-America honor, and I think that Tyler has hit his stride and he’s a kid that we think has a shot to be one of the sixteen that gets an NCAA Indoor qualifying spot, potentially at 5,000-meters, but it’s very tough.
Izaic, his last calendar year has been fantastic. When we talk about our DMR and what our indoor track team does, he’s one of the most important pieces to our team’s goals and what we look to accomplish. Colby Gilbert made massive progress, and he’s now a redshirt freshman coming off of earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors, I think as the year continues he’s a guy that can do big things for us. Meron Simon had a great fall for us, and he anchored our DMR last year at the NCAA Championships. He came into this year with goals of running much faster in the mile and he’s very capable. Then A.J. Yarnall, I think he has designs to go run the longer distances outdoors for us and he’ll be an important contributor.
GH: Will the true freshman group see much time on the track in the winter?
Coach Metcalf: We’ll probably redshirt the freshmen, and then take Fred Huxham and Mahmoud Moussa and go run the World Junior Cross Country Trials in Boulder, Colorado in February. I’m excited about Drew Schreiber but I think we’ll redshirt him this indoor season. He was a little banged up in the fall but I think Drew in the future can do big things.
GH: The mid-distance crew was obviously very successful last season, with Derrick, Izaic and Nick all getting to Eugene and the DMR scoring indoors. Is that group anxious to get going?
Coach Metcalf: Two guys that we’re looking forward to are Blake Nelson and Nick Harris, who both had great 2014 track seasons and ran fast. Nick’s an NCAA qualifier. Talking about DMRs and guys who can potentially run under four minutes in the mile and get to the NCAA Championships, those are two guys that are in that conversation. In the fall they both had some ups and downs, but I think they both had great Decembers, and this week has been better than the entire fall. Keith Williams is another who has shown momentary flashes of brilliance as a freshman and now he can battle for a spot in our DMR and has aspirations of being a great miler.
Then Derrick Daigre took his career to a new level last spring to win Pac-12s and make the NCAA final. He was a little banged up at the end of the summer, so his fall got a little late start, but Derrick is the Pac-12 Champion because he is a believer in himself, so I will never discount Derrick Daigre in anything he believes he can do. Derrick is going to run 600-meters to start the year, and last year the first couple races he had a sore hammy and wasn’t racing and built well throughout the year, so he will definitely build as the year and indoor season progresses.
Derrick Daigre was a two-time First Team All-American last year and Pac-12 Champ at 800 meters.
GH: The men’s DMR returns all five guys so are they looking to improve on that eighth-place NCAA finish?
Coach Metcalf: Last year going to the meet we made the decision not to run Izaic and gave Meron and Blake a great opportunity. But they return all those guys and the goal is to run faster than we ran last year and get back to the meet, and that is a tough event to get to the show in, but the guys are fired up. I think we have some interchangeable parts.
GH: Looking farther ahead to the outdoor season, will Aaron Nelson be leading that steeplechase crew or will he give the 10k a few more shots?
Coach Metcalf: He’s the Pac-12 Champion (in the steeplechase), but I think his future might be at 10,000-meters. So our goal as he progresses is to run the steeple and have the background to run 10,000-meters, and make that decision as the season goes. Tim Cummings obviously ran well last year in the steeple, and we’ve talked about a couple other guys: Blake Nelson has run the steeple in the past and Meron Simon. Our conference is so good at 1,500-meters that sometimes there is not enough room at the inn, so guys want to score at the Pac-12 Championships and make the National Championships so finding the best fit for them is the goal.
GH: How about the 10k this spring?
Coach Metcalf: Aaron, Tyler King, A.J. Yarnall or Sumner Goodwin could all get a chance at the 10k. We have lots of guys that just want to find a way to help our team. With our depth and personnel I think this is as exciting a group as we’ve ever had on the men’s side.
GH: On the women’s side, Maddie obviously established herself as a leader for the group. How do you think that first All-America honor will propel her into the winter and spring?
Coach Metcalf: I think Maddie has made a colossal jump as an athlete. Her fall was the best season she’s ever had as a distance runner. So now I think she’s brimming with confidence. Any time they attach All-American to your name, expectations instantly change. Maddie, the goal now is how do you get to the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships? How do you go score and earn All-American honors in the next two seasons? I think she has great range and ability, honestly I don’t know what her best event is right now. I think she has a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships on a DMR, in the mile, 3k, or 5k, so over the next few weeks hopefully we’ll figure that out.
GH: How is the rest of the cross country squad coming off of the fall season?
Coach Metcalf: Eleanor Fulton I think had a very good fall, and she comes off the fall relatively healthy and she looks great and fired up, and is confident in the track season. Kaylee Flanagan, our goal with her is that we make progress during the indoor season, she wants to obviously run a quality 5k, but the goal is to build to the outdoor season so she has a shot to make the NCAA first round in the 10,000 and the 5,000. But I think she had a great fall and is a way better distance runner now than she was a year ago so just keep grinding away. Erin Johnson just missed making the Pac-12 final last year at 1,500-meters, and she ran great in the 5k on the Sunday in Pullman. She’s always been kind of knocking on the door, and our goal is she finds a way to score at the Pac-12 meet. She adds another very capable body and I’m excited to see how her career closes. Kelly Lawson impacted our team, she is kind of the heart and soul of our women’s group just with attitude and effort and how hard she works. I’m excited to watch her progress and I think she’ll run everything from one mile up and we’ll find the best fit for her.
As for the freshman group, Anna Maxwell had a great fall for us and got better and better as the season went on, but like most of them she has never run indoor track before, so we’ll see, but she’s super talented. Anastasia Kosykh was a super surprise in the fall. She probably won’t race in the indoor season but the goal is to make progress towards running at the Pac-12 Championships at UCLA and finishes the year with a more clear vision of where her future is. But she is an exciting addition to our group and if she keeps making progress she could be a fantastic collegiate distance runner in the years to come. Then Megan Beauchene, she was the Washington state champion last year on the track, and she had a great early part of the fall, but the goal for her is just to figure out what it takes to be a great collegiate distance runner. She’s got all the talent, right now she just needs more time and development. This was only her third cross country season ever, and I’m excited about what she brings. Right now we have the luxury to be patient with Megan bring her on at the appropriate rate.
Liberty Miller made the NCAA final in the steeplechase last season and ran at the USA Championships.
GH: How does the dynamic change now that Katie Flood and Liberty Miller are back to help lead, along with Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight also getting rolling again?
Coach Metcalf: Our personnel now dramatically changes: we add Libby Miller, we add Katie Flood back in the mix. We’ll probably redshirt Katie Knight indoors, but she is training well and Amy-Eloise is as good as we’ve seen her. All of a sudden you add those four women back to our cross country team, along with Baylee Mires and Rose Christen, and that women’s group looks way different than it did in the fall. I think this group of young women has great balance, and lots of firepower from 800-meters all the way up to 10,000-meters.
Katie Flood, as the fall ended, was rocking and rolling. I think she had a great block of training and development. She came back from the break and has had a little plantar issue flare up, so she won’t race this weekend, but the goal is that by the time we get to the end of the indoor season that Katie is out racing and as competitive as she’s ever been. Libby has been very competitive; she has always been a slow starter but as get to the month of May, Libby has been as good as anyone we’ve ever had at championship time. She’s the top returner in the Pac-12 in the steeple, and that’s what her focus is: I made the final last year, how do I go earn an NCAA podium spot?
GH: Baylee redshirted last season but obviously can make a huge impact leading the mid-distance crew. How is her progress?
Coach Metcalf: I think Baylee Mires, shoot she was on a national championship DMR team, and you experience that one time the goal is to get back. She’s only a junior, she still has time, and I want her to become more of a leader on our team, but leadership comes through competition also. I would like her to be a mentor to young up and coming middle distance runners like Rose Christen and Hannah Derby. I think we could have one of the best 800-meter groups we’ve ever had and I’m excited to see where that goes the next five months.
GH: Is there anyone you’re particularly excited to see compete or anyone that might surprise people this year?
Coach Metcalf: I’m really fired up for Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight. They both were out of the mix and I think it was great for them in all honesty. Both of them, if we had really hustled, could have been back at the end of the fall, but I think in their careers they needed to hit the reset button a little bit. They worked their tails off in the fall and were in the weight room, and I think they showed up January 5th on the first day of practice and after the first workout we all went “okay, they’re both very fit.” So Amy-Eloise I think will impact our group in the indoor season. As I mentioned, Katie will probably redshirt indoors, but I’m really excited that they’re both headed in a very positive direction.
GH: Will Amy-Eloise look to steeple outdoors?
Coach Metcalf: She might eventually steeple, but the goal right now is to run fast at the middle distances. We’ve talked a bit about Eleanor or Maddie in the steeplechase but we’ll see as time progresses. Grace Hodge made lots of progress last year in the steeple and I think that’s her big goal as a distance runner here is to run at the Pac-12 in the steeple and hopefully we can help her make that happen.