Drake Era Begins for Cougar Cross Country
Jason Drake was named head cross country coach at Washington State University last summer, replacing James Li who accepted a similar position at the University of Arizona
Drake, 31, spent eight seasons as the distance coach at his alma mater, the University of Colorado. He became the recruiting coordinator for Colorado's cross country and track and field programs in 2000, in addition to his long and middle distance coaching duties. He recruited and assisted in coaching all members of the Colorado women's 2000, and men's 2001 national championship cross country teams.
"Cougar cross country and distance running is taking a new direction under Jason Drake," Rick Sloan, track and field head coach said. "Jason has been instrumental in bringing in the recruiting classes that made the University of Colorado a national cross country and distance power. He has an outstanding background in the middle distance and long distance training of athletes at the collegiate level and has taken middle-of-the-road talent and developed them into All-Americans. We look forward to continuing the excellence we've had at Washington State University over the years. Coach Drake brings a different philosophy of recruiting and training, and is going to be a very positive addition to our track and field staff."
After a stellar prep career at Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming, Drake was a middle distance runner for the Buffalos competing in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. He earned All-America honors as a member of CU's 1994 indoor distance medley relay team. Drake earned several Academic All-Big Eight Conference accolades on his way to earning a bachelor of science degree in environmental conservation in 1994.
Drake founded the Colorado Elite Track Club, a nonprofit club for post-collegiate female middle and long distance runners in 1999. Among the professional members are several outstanding runners: Shayne Culpepper (2000 Olympic team 1500m and two World Cross Country teams), Janet Trujillo (2002 World Cross Country team and fifth place in 2001 USATF 1500m Outdoor Championships), and Sarah Toland (2002 World Cross Country team).
Drake has also worked part time as a geographic information systems consultant including creating databases for the U.S. Department of Energy and private firms. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys mountain biking, water and snow skiing in addition to running.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to have a great cross country program at Washington State," Drake said. "Coach Li had some success in the past and I hope to continue that success. Being in the Pac-10 is especially exciting. It is a great conference and one of the best for track and field for sure."
WSU Women's Team
Junior Anna Blue is coming back after a track season in which she qualified for the NCAA's in the 5000m. Drake expects Blue, the team captain, to do big things this season.
"She's definitely had a good summer, better than she's ever had before," Drake said.
Blue, is the most-experienced returnee after a 22nd-finish at the 2001 NCAA West Regional Championships and 24th at the Pac-10 Championships.
Three other women letterwinners Drake expects to help are Molly Bull, Ana Cabrera, and Julia Corbett. All three have had a good summer of training according to Drake, and all tell him they are way ahead of where they were last Fall. The new coach is looking forward to seeing what these three can do once they hit the season.
Probably rounding out the top five for the women's side is redshirt junior Hillary Smith who arrived for Fall turnout in good shape and looking to move up the depth chart on the roster. Smith, primarily an 800m runner, became the Cougars' leading steeplechaser by the end of last spring.
Joining Smith on the roster are freshmen Julie Ross, Diana Worthen, Hailey Young and Staci Hunter.
Hunter, a 2A state champion in cross country from Ephrata who transferred to WSU this year after playing volleyball at Big Bend CC, joined the team after school began.
"We were a little short on numbers this year but we ran an ad in the Evergreen and got a few women who were actually pretty good to come out," Drake said. "One of them was a two-time state champion for 2A so that was definitely worth the trouble."
While rebuilding will take time, Drake is anxious to have the squad compete.
"We can't afford injuries with our small numbers on both sides so I'm being a little cautious right now," Drake said. "They are all pretty fired up and trying to hold them back is hard."
WSU Men's Team
Inexperience is the biggest concern for the WSU men's cross country team.
"Although they are ready to go, they still don't have the experience racing," Drake said of his young team. "That'll come this year."
Sophomores Mike Heidt and Danny Wolf are two of the runners Drake is talking about. Both have plenty of natural ability but still lack the experience of running collegiate races. Drake hopes to get them that experience by the end of the season for the Pac-10 Championship and the NCAA Regional Championship.
Team captain Kyle Barker had a good summer and along with Heidt and Wolf, appear to be ahead of where they were a year ago.
"Ian Johnson was one of our best guys last year on the team he didn't quite have the summer we'd hoped for so he's a little bit behind," Drake said. "I look for him to keep improving every week. Hopefully he'll be hot come the time that counts in November."
One freshman Drake expects to have an immediate impact on the team is Reid Carrell, a two-time state 1A cross country champion and track title-holder in the mile and two-mile.
"He's been looking good but is so young I'm trying to hold him back a little bit right now," Drake said. "But he's going to be a contributor."
Another freshman key to rebuilding the program is Ryan Friemuth, an exceptional runner a couple years ago at Wenatchee High who had foot surgery that held him back. He'll probably be red-shirting this season unless he really takes off in early Fall.
"Assuming we have no injuries and everyone keeps coming along okay, we may have a chance to sneak into the NCAAs, which would be pretty exciting," Drake said. "We have small numbers and things can't go wrong. We just have to move ahead slowly. If the men are all ahead a 20 to 30 seconds faster than they ran a year ago, they have a chance.
"The Pac 10 arguably is probably the best conference in terms of depth so to get in the top part of the conference is a pretty phenomenal feat. I just hope for both teams to be ahead of where we were a year ago."