Aug. 22, 2005
The Washington State cross country teams are ready for the 2005 season according to Head Coach Jason Drake. Drake begins his fourth season with the Cougar distance corps and can claim recruiting rights to nearly all of the 35 runners on the men's and women's rosters which include only two seniors, one of whom is a transfer to the program this year.
"These teams are dominated by athletes who will start their third season with the program," Drake said. "This is what we've been waiting for the last few years."
The stronger of the two squads is the WSU women's team which finished an unexpected fifth place at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships last fall. Led by freshman Haley Paul's 24th place finish and sophomore Kayle Peterson's 27th place finish, these Cougars start the 2005 season with another year's experience and training.
"Haley was our number one runner from the end of the cross country season through the outdoor track season," Drake said. "She continued to improve and trained well during this summer. Kayle Peterson had an injury (stress fracture in foot) last Christmas and wasn't able to train for eight weeks so she lost her base after a good cross season and had a rough track season. She has trained uninterrupted all summer and will be ready for fall competition."
After redshirting during the fall cross country season, sophomore Megan Leonard made a huge jump with her freshman school record steeplechase time of 10-minutes, 44.91 seconds, last spring. Leonard arrived at WSU as a multi-sport prep athlete and will benefit greatly from the year of only training for running.
Junior Kelly Ramirez made a big leap last year as the lone Cougar distance runner to score at the Pac-10 Championships with her eighth place finish in the 10,000m. She has trained uninjured for the last eight to nine months and joins Paul, Peterson and Leonard as a very solid top four runners for the Cougar women.
Rounding out the WSU top seven are junior Natalie Smith and sophomores Collier Lawrence and Isley Gonzalez. All three gained experience during the 2004 cross country season and competed at the Pac-10 Championships with Lawrence and Smith also racing at NCAA West Regionals.
"If those are our top seven and they're healthy, we're a very good team especially if we have a couple of people place where Haley and Kayle finished a year ago at the conference meet," Drake said. "The women's team is very strong and it will be tough for one of our freshmen to step in their first season."
Freshmen Alyssa Modrell, from Snohomish, Wash., may have the best chance at having an impact this fall. Both ran well as prep seniors during cross country season last year. Sandoval is more of a middle distance specialist but can go the longer distances.
"The rule of thumb for both men and women in cross country is if you can score under a hundred points you're a good team," Drake said. "Last year the WSU women were fifth at 171 points while fourth place scored 102 points. We have a huge gap to close in. Stanford and Arizona State are best two women's squads in conference. A reasonable goal for the WSU women is to finish in the top four at the conference meet."
The WSU men's cross country team will be led by juniors Alex Grant and Andrew Jones who have impressed Drake with their spring outdoor track performances as well as their summer training. Grant was an NCAA Regional qualifier in steeplechase while Jones ran 14:22.84 in breakthrough 5k at the Stanford Invitational.
Ryan Freimuth is a redshirt junior veteran with three years of experience coming back. Redshirt sophomores Chris Concha and Chris Williams, and redshirt freshman Woody Favinger have been steadily training and Drake believes the results will be evident in the fall.
"These are developmental guys who have been training hard and their individual work will help the team in the long run," Drake said.
Senior Justin Ireland has one cross country season remaining and has been WSU's fifth runner at NCAA Regionals three times, earning Ireland the title of Mr. November, according to Drake. Ireland's breakthrough came last spring when he ran an NCAA Regional Qualifying mark of 3:48.09 March 26, but had his training and nearly his season ended when he was struck by a bike and suffered facial fractures two weeks later. While the 10k is a little long for Ireland, Drake admires his competitive drive.
C. J. Godfrey and Drew Polley are unknown factors in the team picture because they were redshirts last fall with injuries. Both are very talented and their early fall performances could put them among the top seven runners as redshirt freshmen.
There are quite a few newcomers to the men's team in 2005, including a pair of transfers from Portland State who could have an impact. Senior Clay Hemlock, while more of a middle distance runner, has cross country experience as does Evan Blanshan.
A few freshmen have an opportunity to make an immediate impact but Drake states that going from high school to collegiate cross country is a hard adjustment.
"It is a big adjustment for freshmen to go from a 5k to 10k," Drake said. "Base work and volume have more of an impact and most guys come very under-trained so it will take some time. We mostly spend the fall getting the freshmen ready for indoor track season."
Frosh runners Sam Ahlbeck, Dominic Smargiassi, Dan Lucero, and Derry Betts were very talented cross country runners in high school and will be given the chance to join the seasoned Cougars in competition.
"We have some third-year guys that I recruited and have been in the system so should be ready to compete," Drake said. "They've been running between 80 to 100 miles per week so this has been the most dedicated any of them have been to summer training. We are counting on these guys to take until their junior years to really contribute and that is what you are seeing in Alex and Andrew and Ryan."
As for the conference standings it looks like five-time defending Pac-10 Champions Stanford, even with a coaching change, will still be the team to beat with Arizona State, Washington, and Arizona following.
"Our goal for the men every year is to score fewer points than the year before and I feel our team's gotten better every year even though we've not placed higher," Drake said. "Twenty to thirty points separates second or third place to last in our conference so it's very even."
The Cougars start the season with at the University of Idaho Open meet Sept. 2.