Jan. 10, 2001
The Washington State men's team has nowhere to go but up. After a disappointing finishing in the Pacific-10 Conference Championships last year, the Cougars are relying on a strong recruiting class mixed with red-shirts and experienced returnees at the top of most events to make the 2000 season a distant memory.
"We finished last in the conference last year and that is absolutely unacceptable," seventh-year Cougar Head Coach Rick Sloan said. "Not having Arend Watkins run in the high hurdles cost us 10 points. Most of the guys we had there did a pretty good job. They competed pretty well with just a couple of exceptions. I look at that and say how come we're last. The problem was, of our 12.6 scholarships, nearly half of those weren't participating because of either injury or didn't perform up to the standards to get to the meet. We have to get better than that."
As for NCAA experience, only All-American Arend Watkins can make that claim off this year's squad. Watkins, a high hurdles specialist, has been hampered by illness or injury which has kept him out of the national final standings for two years and away from the conference championships last year. Having clocked the fourth fastest collegiate time in the 110m hurdles last spring, Watkins is projected to be the top returnee in this race nationally in 2001.
Junior intermediate hurdler Eric Dudley, and senior captain, javelin thrower Bryan Jones, both had provisional qualifying marks last year but didn't survive the NCAA competition cut. They are among the Cougar men with the greatest potential to see the national meet this year. Throwers Vinnie Pecht and Cameron Graves are possibilities but will have to improve another 10-12 feet to make the qualifying cut. All three javelin throwers have potential to see NCAA competition in Eugene, as Jones is joined by senior Ryan Nichols and redshirt freshman Curt Borland, who Sloan thinks has the ability to be a 230-foot thrower.
Promising newcomers include freshmen sprinters J.K. Haines (Redmond, Wash.) and Anthony Buchanan (Spokane, Wash.), freshman 400m specialist Qieed Ishmael (Richmond, Va.), sophomore triple jumper Benson Jones (Concord, Calif.), redshirt freshman distance specialist Ian Johnson (Spokane, Wash.), redshirt junior pole vaulter Ryan Turner (Spokane, Wash.), redshirt freshman javelin thrower Curt Borland (Cowiche, Wash.), and freshman thrower Sam Lightbody (Huntington Beach, Calif.).
"We have some additions to our team that will help us but we still have to get better," Sloan said. "We still have to bring in more men. I think we have more potential for points and I can guarantee we will compete better. But we have to make sure we have people qualified for the meet and then perform when we get there."
The proof will be in the performance and the points.
"This is an exciting area on the men's team this year," Sloan said.
Junior Anson Henry returns after a fourth place finish at the Pac-10 Championships last year. Henry was hurt in the indoor season and that extended well into the outdoor season. The coaches are taking every precaution to keep him healthy this year and are looking forward to a great indoor and outdoor season.
Newcomers to the sprints bring solid prep pedigrees. J.K. Haines was the Washington state champion two years ago in the 100m and 200m, but was injured last year and didn't make it to the state meet. Haines will run both short dashes and the 400m on occasion. Anthony Buchanan, one of the top male sprinters in the country last year and number two all-time in the state of Washington, is coming from the football team and will give the Cougars a big boost. Buchanan was the 2000 Washington state 4A champion in the 100m and 200m races.
Freshmen Dan Brink (Yacolt, Wash.), and Tom Winslow (Belfair, Wash.), will add depth in the 100m, 200m and 400m, and help out on the relays.
The Cougs are not deep in the 400m or 800m. Junior Simon Kamau will move down from the 800m and longer races and train more as a 400m runner this year. Sloan recruited Kamau as a 400m/800m runner but pushed him to cross country and the long races when he arrived. After reevaluating, the coaches hope the longer dash is a better fit.
"We've always been impressed with Eric Dudley in the fall training as he's just an absolute beast running on the hills and Simon's competing with him on a regular basis," Sloan said. "With this type of strength and power-type training as a 400m runner, we can get a stronger race and likely a sub-48-seconds 400m time. That should carry over to a faster 800m time as well."
Qieed Ishmael is a walk-on from Virginia, who is proving to be a very strong and is highly motivated and a hard worker. With some refinement of his running mechanics, Ishmael should help in that 400m gap as well.
Sophomore Jacob Hazelquist should be the 800m front line runner with Kamau moving up on occasion. Eric Dudley has clocked in at 1:54 on only his second attempt but the coaches don't want to spread him too thin with too many events. Ryan Wieseler is a freshman from Connell, Wash., who is strong and with some training under his belt, looks to be promising in the 800m. His strength improved greatly throughout the cross country season. Loren Childers will also contribute in the 800m.
Ian Johnson is finally back for a season of running in the crimson singlet. The red-shirt freshman, who didn't run cross country last fall, is finally over the mononucleosis that plagued him last year. Johnson will be one of the Cougar mainstays all the way from 1500m to 5000m.
"We recruited Ian because we thought he could be a great runner at these distances and he will be," Sloan said. "He's a tough guy, and likes to get out and accept the level of competition and race people."
Junior Scott Johnson has been providing solid performances and he will be in the 1500m and the steeplechase primarily, dropping down on occasion. Help in the steeplechase will come from sophomore Kyle Barker. Coming off a strong cross country season, Sloan sees plenty of potential in Barker and Johnson to do good things for the Cougars on the track. He believes Barker and Johnson are capable of running under nine minutes in the steeplechase this year.
Oscar Franco-Parra, after two mediocre track and field seasons, has turned over a new leaf. "He's been racing well, he's smarter and more serious about his running and that has made a big improvement in his performances in the cross country season," Sloan said. "He raced well in Iowa with a big field. When we move into the track season he'll take that 5000m time down to competitive level."
Jon Welsh ran just over 30 minutes last year in the 10k and provided a real good performance for WSU in that event. Jim Neeway (Beaverton, Utah) is a freshman who has shown promise in cross country, getting more experience and getting his feet wet. Sloan sees the strength and potential to be a good distance runner, but feels Neeway needs to improve his consistency.
Freshman Kurt Hicks (Glide, Ore.) is a utilitarian distance runner who will move up and down the different distances. The coaches are searching for where Hick's best race is in college - what distance will best suit him.
Newcomer Will Thrift (Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada) brings excitement to the Cougar depth in the 5k.
The strongest and most consistent performer on the team has been senior Arend Watkins. The exceptions have been his injury last year which kept him out of the Pac-10s and a sub-par performance at the NCAAs. Watkins is probably the top returning high hurdler in the country after having the fourth best time in the country last year.
"I think Arend Watkins is a guy who will be challenging for a national title this year," Sloan said. "His work ethic has improved, he's working harder than he has in the previous three years combined. He's lifting weights more diligently now and has made tremendous improvements there in both strength and fitness. I'm hoping this will hold off the injury problems. He's a very flexible person but the strength aspect will be important. Hopefully he will hold up and do the things that he is capable of but I think he'll be one of the best in the country this year."
Filling out the high hurdles roster are Eric Dudley, Steve Dwyer and Will Miller. Dwyer, who missed last year because of mononucleosis, should have a good year, in both the highs and the decathlon. Antwan Randolph (Kent, Wash.) is a freshman who has a 14.7 hand time and coach Mark Macdonald feels he can improve and adjust to the three-inch higher hurdles and make an impact on the team this year.
In the intermediate hurdles the Cougars are not terribly deep but have a big stopper with Dudley. After making tremendous improvements last year, Sloan has high expectations for the workhorse junior, "Dud is capable of competing with the best at the national championships and scoring very high in the Pac-10s."
Dwyer will also work in the intermediate hurdles, as if ten events weren't enough, he'll get an 11th. Paul Sommer had a very promising freshman year and then the past two years has had average performances. If Sommer can return to his freshman form, the intermediates will be a strong event for WSU.
Sophomore Will Miller, primarily a high hurdler, may also see time in the intermediates. His fall training went well and he's shown good strength and effort. He adds depth in the hurdle corps behind Watkins and Dudley. Getting his times down to where he can be representative and score some points for WSU is within his reach.
Haines will provide much-needed speed in the Cougars' short relay. Now, if a fourth individual rises to the challenge, WSU will have a very fast 4x100m relay team with Haines, Buchanan and Henry leading the way. "This relay will be fast even if I ran the fourth leg," Sloan jests. "But if we get somebody who can move pretty well then we'll be a contender there. We are looking at possibly Arend Watkins or Dan Brink, a walk-on freshman."
Kamau, Dudley, Ishmael and possibly Steve Dwyer, will keep the Cougars afloat in the 4x400m relay. Sloan thinks this group may even get down to 3:10, or 3:12.
"We may even occasionally use Buchanan and Henry on the 4x4. I'm confident they can both run under 47 seconds," Sloan said.
The Cougars lost All-American Demetrius Murray in the long and triple jumps but gained Benson Jones. Jones, a jaycee transfer who comes in as a redshirt sophomore, was the California state high school triple jump champion at Clayton Valley High in Concord. He has jumped 51-9 in the triple and 24 feet in the long jump. Sloan sees the potential for Jones to go to the NCAAs and do some damage as well as be a high finisher in the Pac-10, especially in the triple jump.
Freshman Brian Graham (Lake Stevens, Wash.) caught the coaches eyes as they watched him at the state meet last year where he was the long jump champion and second in the triple. "I think he's going to be an outstanding triple jumper and could be a Pac-10 scorer as a freshman," Sloan said. "He's worked hard this fall and works the levers really well."
Walk-on freshman Peter Rizzardi and redshirt sophomore Justin Nikbakhsh-Tali will fill the remaining spots in the long and triple jumps.
The Cougars have a handful pole vaulters. The top vaulter last year was Rick Collins who broke the school freshman pole vault record at 16-9 1/2 indoors. Senior Bryan Preuss scored at the Pac-10 Championships and showed the potential to be a good jumper after a clearance at 16-3 1/2 that he made quite easily and showed the ability to jump over 17 feet. Junior Ryan Turner, a red-shirt last year, is a good vaulter who is going to progress. Nikbakhsh-Tali jumped 16-0 feet indoors last year and then ran into confidence problems that limited his performances outdoors. The coaches feel he's strong and fit and has all the tools to be a 17-plus vaulter if he keeps his level of confidence up and keeps doing things right technically.
"I think all of these guys can jump 17 feet or higher. Coach Kris Grimes does a wonderful job with the vaulters," Sloan said.
Newcomers Andy Kammenga (Bellingham, Wash.) was a 16-0 performer as a prep junior, but was injured his senior year. Sloan sees him challenging these experiences vaulters or maybe even move ahead of them. Freshman Paul Nicoletti (Snohomish, Wash.) rounds out the pole vault roster.
Ezra Gordon and Matt Alverson are back as the front line high jumpers after good freshman years. Alverson wrenched his ankle during the indoor season and never recovered from that but started jumping better at the end of the season. Sloan thinks it's a matter of keeping both healthy to get two consistent seven-foot high jumpers.
"If that happens, we'll be strong and they'll be doing damage all year long and at the conference meet. I think we're in good hands with those two guys," Sloan said. "Dwyer will come down and work some high jumping but that is our depth at this event."
The shot put and hammer corps are all freshmen or redshirt freshmen who hopefully will develop and help carry WSU, and in time become outstanding throwers. But the strength of the Cougar throwing corps are without a doubt, the javelin throwers.
Bryan Jones and Ryan Nichols return for their senior years and Jones is the men's team captain. Both have scored at the conference championships and both have thrown in the mid 220s. Redshirt freshman Curt Borland has the third-best mark on the team and performed well as a redshirt athlete last year in the few meets he participated in and he threw well in practice. He still has development ahead of him and he's going to get better.
"We need to get a little more long throw consistency from Jones and Nichols," Sloan said. "There are some Pac-10 coaching changes and athletes moving to different schools so the javelin is wide open and I think that is where the Cougs should do some damage at the conference meet. Hopefully they will all improve competing against each other."
Rounding out the javelin is NW Nazarene transfer Nathan Cummings who has thrown around 190 but shown solid skills in practice. Four deep in talent in the javelin bodes well for the WSU men.
The shot put and discus events will miss All-American Ian Waltz after five years. "We became very dependant on him to contribute in both areas at all levels from dual meets to NCAA Championships," Sloan said. "We have to have some of the other younger people fill in and take up the slack."
In the discus look for senior Vinnie Pecht and junior Cameron Graves who have shown they are more than capable of doing the job for the Cougs. Sloan hopes for them to show more consistency over the 180-foot mark and feels both are very capable of doing that as well as hitting the big throws when needed.
The shot put is an unproven event. Redshirt freshman Tim Gehring came on toward the end of last year, making the necessary adjustments to the bigger shot and getting out over 53 feet. The coaches like his coachable attitude, his strength and foresee him improving throughout the year.
Incoming freshman Shaun Straka (Montesano, Wash.) has tremendous strength and he is adapting easily from the 12 to 16 pound shot, but is too big for Waltz' old uniforms. He threw over 60 feet a couple of times last year as a prep and if he completes the transition and throws in the upper 50s, the WSU will have a decent one-two punch with Gehring and Straka. "In the NCAA and particularly the Pac-10, shot putting has fallen off the past few years," Sloan said. "There have been some good throwers, with the top two to four guys with long throws, but then places five though eight really tail back with guys throwing 53-55 feet and still scoring at the Pac-10 Championships. I remember when Ian was a freshman he threw 56 or 57 feet and didn't get a sniff. Things are changing."
Joining the track team this spring from the WSU football team is Sam Lightbody, a 6-9, 305-pound freshman thrower from Huntington Beach, Calif. Lightbody had prep best tosses of 60-8 in the shot put and 195-11 in the discus. Sloan feels Lightbody can have an immediate impact in the shot and discus.
Freshman Thad Cullinan (Mukilteo, Wash.) is trying all the throws, including learning the hammer. Gehring will also help in the hammer in addition to the shot put. Redshirt freshman Jon Thomas will add depth to both the shot and hammer corps.
Junior Steve Dwyer, after being out the entire outdoor season with mononucleosis last year, is back, stronger than ever. Dwyer has been working hard and in particular improving the throwing events. Sloan said Dwyer's technical improvement is very evident.
"I think Steve's going to do a very good job," Sloan said. "I believe we can get him up to an NCAA qualifying standard and get him to Eugene. He's our only decathlete, but we are in good hands."