The Cougar men will have to dig deep and reach for personal best performances this year without the services of 11-time All-American Bernard Lagat. An outstanding distance runner, Lagat was the 1999 NCAA Indoor Male Athlete of the Year after winning the mile and the 3000m races, as well as the Pac-10 Men's Track & Field co-Athlete of the Year during the outdoor season.
Last year, the Cougar men placed 10th at the NCAA Indoor Championships and 11th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, but only seventh at the Pac-10 Conference Championships, and Lagat was responsible for the majority of those national points.
Cougar coach Rick Sloan, in his 27th year with the Washington State men's program and sixth season as the head coach, and his staff have worked to establish a blend of experienced competitors and young talent.
"Except for a couple of events, I think we have good front line people in each event but we just don't have the depth in all areas," Sloan said.
All-Americans Demetrius Murray, Ian Waltz, Arend Watkins, and Guillermo Macias return to the Cougar lineup. Murray, a senior triple jumper, had his longest leap of 54-0w for second place at the NCAA Championships last June. Senior thrower Ian Waltz returns from a medical redshirt year after suffering a torn tendon on his throwing hand. Waltz was third in the discus and fifth in the shot at the 1998 NCAA outdoor championships and holds the WSU record in the discus at 211-5 and is third all-time in the shot at 63-9 3/4. Watkins was tied for 11th in the 110m hurdles at the 1998 NCAA Championships, but contracted food poisoning at the 1999 national meet and did not place. Macias currently has the top times in the 200m and 400m races and will contribute to the relays.
Promising newcomers will have to rise to the next level quickly to take on the highly-competitive Pac-10 Conference. High jumper Matt Alverson from Everett High, pole vaulter Rick Collins from West Valley High in Spokane, and distance runner Jon Welsh, a Californian who transferred from East Tennessee State, are among those who provide points for the Cougar men.
SprintsSprinters notoriously are not thrilled with fall and winter workouts, but Sloan has been very impressed with the work ethic of sophomore Anson Henry. Henry was hurt for much of last year and returns for the 2000 season more fit and much stronger.
Senior Brian Laville is explosive out of the blocks and can provide a one-two punch with Henry, particularly in the indoor short sprints. Laville will also long jump for the Cougar men.
Larry Williams has a lifetime best of 10.60 in the 100m race and 21.84 in the 200m, while Alex Tinsley joins the track team from the football squad and has shown credible speed in workouts. Sophomore Nick DiSpaltro has struggled with illness this past fall, but will be ready to contribute in both the 200m and 400m races.
Guillermo Macias, the sprint member of WSU's world record-setting distance medley relay team of 1998, has a top time in the 200m of 21.53 and is the Cougs' primary 400m runner with a time of 47.19. Providing depth in the 400m is freshman Josh Fitzhugh, state 2A champion from Omak high last year, who looks good in fall workouts, plus juniors Paul Sommer and Chad Randall.
"Josh is one of those unknowns who shows the ability and potential to be very good," Sloan said. "We just have to wait and see how he comes along."
Middle Distances After relying heavily on Bernard Lagat in the middle distances the past several years, the Cougar men need to bring their level of performance up in this area.
Freshman Ian Johnson was state 2A cross country champion, as well as 1600m and 3200m champion at University High of Spokane, last year. Johnson was ready to take over the Cougs' top spot in cross country at mid-season when he came down with mononucleosis and has not practiced during the rest of fall or early winter workouts.
"We will rely heavily on Ian Johnson in the middle distance races, especially this season, " Sloan said.
The supporting cast in the middle distances include sophomores Simon Kamau, Jacob Hazelquist, and Scott Johnson, as well as senior Rob Harris.
Distance Sophomore Scott Johnson is the top Cougar runner in the steeplechase with a time of 9:35.90. Dan Boniface and Kyle Barker will be learning the event as they compete this season.
Oscar Franco-Parra, a sophomore, will concentrate this season on the longer races of 5,000m and 10,000m. Coach Sloan sees help in newcomer Jon Welsh, a sophomore originally from Carmichael, Calif., who transferred from East Tennessee State and has run under 31 minutes for 10,000m.
"Ian Johnson and Jon Welsh are tough guys," Sloan said. "And I like tough guys. They might get in a race where somebody else has a faster time or may be a more talented runner, but I'll take the tough guys in those situations. They don't care that they aren't supposed to win and they don't let anybody stand in their way."
The supporting cast in these events will be redshirt freshmen Mark Wicklander and Dan Boniface.
Sloan said having the talented people in the middle distance and distance races perform up to their potential will help the team a lot this season.
Hurdles All-American Arend Watkins is back for his junior season after food-poisoning ended his 1999 NCAA Championships bid. He ran a 14.56 in the semi-finals but did not advance to the final eight. Watkins did, however, capture the Pac-10 crown last year in addition to being an All-American in the indoor 60m hurdles, and has run a best time of 13.63w.
"I'm pleased to have Arend Watkins back for his junior year," Sloan said. "He has run exceptionally well. I believe he is one of the top hurdlers in the country this year."
Sophomore Eric Dudley has a 14.95 time in the high hurdles and leads the team in the intermediates at 52.02. Decathlon athlete Steve Dwyer checks in at 15.16 in the highs and 54.46 in the intermediates, while junior Paul Sommer has a 52.98 best in the 400m hurdles.
Will Miller, a freshman from Duvall, Wash., brings a 14.5 prep time in the highs and no mark in the intermediates.
"Our hurdles aren't especially deep but we have two aces with Arend in the highs and Eric in the intermediates," Sloan said. "Eric has had an outstanding fall training and looks to be ready to run very fast this spring."
Relays The baton-passing events should benefit from the experience and talent of the Cougar sprint and hurdles corps. Henry, Laville, Dudley, Dwyer, Watkins, Macias, DiSpaltro, and Fitzhugh will provide WSU with a solid base of runners for the relays.
Jumps Leading a group of youthful Cougars in the high jump are seniors Chris Rushing, a 7-0 jumper two years ago who placed seventh last year at the Pac-10s, and Craig Allen, who leaped 6-11 as a prep athlete and looks ready to surpass that mark this year. Freshmen Matt Alverson from Cascade High in Everett, Wash., and Ezra Gordon from Colville, Wash., have strong prep performances. Alverson has cleared 7-0 and placed third in state 4A meet last year, while Gordon has a prep-best of 6-10. Decathlete Steve Dwyer will also provide support in the high jump with a PR of 6-8.
In the pole vault, seniors Lex Katich (16-10 3/4i) and Tony Boitano (16-6 3/4) are back with the top heights for the Cougs. Newcomers include freshman Rick Collins, who cleared 16-0 while at West Valley High in Spokane, and junior transfers Ryan Turner from Wake Forest, and Bryan Preuss from Community Colleges of Spokane. Justin Nikbakhsh-Tali is a redshirt freshman from San Jose, Calif., who worked with the coaches last year and has shown tremendous improvement in early season training this year.
Demetrius Murray, an All-America in the triple jump, soared to a 25-3 1/2w long jump for second place at the Pac-10s last year. Fellow senior Brian Laville has a career-best of 25-0 and Coach Sloan expects his solid year of training at WSU will allow him to jump to his potential - possibly an eight-meter jumper (over 26 feet). Junior Chad Schwendiman has a best of 22-11 and Dwyer has leaped 21-11 3/4.
In the triple jump, it could be lonely for Murray at the top. After finishing third at the Pac-10s, Murray leaped to a wind-aided 54-0 for second place at the NCAAs last year. Freshman Trevor Morris, from Ephrata, Wash., is the sole back-up in the triple jump, with a prep mark of 44-10.
Throws As far as Ian Waltz is concerned, last year was a training season. Unable to compete because of a tendon injury in his throwing hand, All-American Ian Waltz spent the year getting ready for his senior season. Coach Sloan calls Waltz his number one knock-out punch in both the shot put and the discus from indoors to outdoors through the nationals. Waltz led the nation in the discus in 1998 at 211-5, and has a best of 63-9 3/4 in the shot.
"We very dearly missed Ian last year, especially in the shot put, at the championship meets," Sloan said. "His hand is healthy now and his performances are looking very good in the early season. He will no doubt be a three-time All-American in the indoor and outdoor seasons with the shot and the discus. I'm excited about the strength that he brings back to our throwing group and the leadership that he provides as team captain."
The supporting staff in the shot put includes senior BJ Schade, who threw a 48-2 3/4 last year, plus freshmen Tim Gehring (Kettle Falls, Wash.) and Jon Thomas (Kent, Wash.).
Backing up Waltz in the discus is junior Vinnie Pecht, who finished eighth at the Pac-10s last year and has a best 181-0, and sophomore Cameron Graves, who threw 180-11 last season.
Schade is also a contender in the discus, with a best mark of 177-3, but really comes to the forefront in the hammer, where he leads the Cougs with a PR of 210-7. He placed sixth in the hammer at the Pac-10s and had an NCAA provisional qualifying mark. Freshmen Thomas and Gehring, and sophomore John Molfino, a transfer from Sacramento State, will be in a steep learning curve for the hammer this spring.
In the javelin, juniors Ryan Nichols and Bryan Jones both had great sophomore seasons, with Nichols placing fourth and Jones seventh at the Pac-10 Championships. Nichols best mark is 223-7 while Jones has heaved a 216-6. Sophomore Russ Milam, a prep All-American out of Belgrade, Mont., threw 198-4 as a frosh and will continue to improve in the WSU training regime. Freshmen Curt Borland, from Cowiche, Wash., and Jason Irwin, from Auburn, Wash., will provide depth while learning this season.
Decathlon Sophomore Dwyer had a solid debut in his first season as a decathlete, placing fourth at the Pac-10 Combined-Events Championships with 6,734 points. A strong hurdler, he is developing his high jump and has cleared 6-8. Dwyer's first year performances were very encouraging and Sloan is looking forward to his continuing improvement in his second year of decathlon training.