Jan. 10, 2007
Washington State Head Coach Rick Sloan is looking forward to the opportunities ahead for the Cougar men's track and field team in the 2007 season.
"I think it's a good championship team and I think we have good dual meet depth," Sloan said on the competition eve of his 13th year as head coach and 34th season with the squad. "We have good people all the way through and great people in some areas."
Buoyed by the seven members of the 2007 team who have NCAA Championship experience, an influx of highly-talented recruits, and the maturation of last year's recruiting class, the Cougar men show competitive depth in events that leads the coaching staff to be very optimistic.
Returning All-Americans for the Cougar men: Tyson Byers in the pole vault, John Cassleman in the intermediate hurdles, and Matt Lamb in the discus. Byers has battled injuries throughout his WSU career but begins this season in top form and looks to reprise his 2005 height of 17-8 1/2 and leap higher. Cassleman is coming off his best season ever with several sub-50-seconds races at the end of 2006. Lamb had an outstanding freshman year, reaching third place in the discus at both the NCAA and Pac-10 Championships and wrestling the school's freshman record away from Olympian Ian Waltz with a toss of 189-9.
Seven newcomers with championship titles joined the WSU men's team this year. Freshmen from the state of Washington includes: Trent Arrivey, a 7-foot high jumper; Kyle Schauble, a decathlete with high and low hurdles crowns; and Luke Lemenager, an 800m winner. Out-of-state champs include Bob Hewitt-Gaffney, a 400m and 800m winner from Wyoming, Dan Geib, a 1600m and 3200m titlest from Nevada, and Nathan Bache, a javelin winner from Montana. Junior decathlete Rickey Moody brings the NWAACC titles in long jump and decathlon
"Health is always a factor but I can't question how hard people are working in the preseason," Sloan said. "They are really putting in the time and effort and we are seeing the results early on but we are continuing to get smarter about our training. We have to get the talented people in the uniform on Saturday and turn them loose; it doesn't matter how fit they are or how talented they are if they are sitting in the training room, it doesn't do us any good. We'll see how it plays out in May."
SPRINTS / RELAYS
Washington State established itself as an outstanding sprint program around the turn of this century and has maintained that position since. Cougar Pac-10 champions in the 100m included Anson Henry (2002) and Anthony Buchanan (2003 and 2004), and conference meet 100m dash runners-up Benny Chatman (2003) and James McSwain (2005). Last year, Jaycee Robertson and Justin Woods stepped up with top-notch performances in both the 100m and 200m dashes as well as on the 4x100m relay team.
Robertson, a senior who started his Cougar career as a mid-year freshman walk-on, has developed tremendously during his career, with times of 10.26w and 10.30. Woods, a sophomore who joined the team last January, has developed a light and quick start, according to assistant coach Mark Macdonald. Both are slightly better in the 200m but will see duties in both sprints and on the short relay.
Brian Woods, Justin's older brother, can run a range from 100m to 400m, with his strength in the 400m. Jarrell Nelson, a junior coming off a redshirt season, looks to regain his prep speed in the 100m and 200m and will also contribute on the relay.
"We start this season with some very good sprinters," Sloan said. "That is a good crew and a good relay team. The sprinters look very good in their early training."
While hurdler John Cassleman is WSU's top 400m runner, he'll concentrate on his specialty, the 400m hurdles, but be available for 4x400m relay stints. Cougars in uniform for the quarter mile include Brian Woods, just over 48-seconds last season, Bob Hewitt-Gaffney, 2006 Wyoming 400m champ, and redshirt freshmen Devin Timpson and Reny Follett, who have shown good power and strength in this race.
The Cougars' 4x400m relay possibilities look promising, with more speed than in past seasons. Sloan envisions a record freshman indoor 4x400m time with a team of Hewitt-Gaffney, Follett, decathlete and prep sprinter Kyle Schauble, and Luke Lemenager coming down from the middle distances.
MIDDLE DISTANCE / DISTANCE / STEEPLECHASE
Freshmen Lemenager and Hewitt-Gaffney will have an immediate impact in the 800m race. Also able to contribute in this race are Follett, Jimmy Schofield and Sam Stone. In the 1500m, Chris Concha, Evan Blanshan and Lemenager will be the go-to guys.
"The 800m looks young and looks pretty good," Sloan said. "Coach Drake did a wonderful job of getting us a couple of the nation's best to come here and run for us and it looks like we were correct in our assessment of their talent. We'll be okay in the 1500m, but a lot of the people we are counting on there will have other events that are their primary and better events."
The distance races will generate renewed excitement during the outdoor season because of the Cougar men's team competition in the NCAA Cross Country Championships last fall for the first time in nearly a decade. The 5000m should be an event where the harriers will find the most success on the oval. Senior Andrew Jones is WSU's top 5k competitor and is expected to translate his solid cross country work into good track performances. Chris Williams, Drew Polley and Dan Geib are coming off good cross country seasons. Dominic Smargiassi, Derry Betts and Dan Lucero are also talented runners who can step up in this event. Woody Favinger, the Cougars top finisher during the 2006 cross country season, and Jones are the Cougar 10k runners.
"We're excited about the progression from cross country, and if we can keep that rolling over to track, I think we'll be pretty good in the 5k and the 10k," Sloan said. "Finding the right events for the right people from that cross country team is something Coach Drake will do as the season progresses."
The steeplechase should to be one of WSU's strongest events this season. Alex Grant is the Cougars' number one steeplechaser after running a 9:04 last year as a redshirt and the coaches have already seen a more efficient technique from him in training. Concha and Sam Ahlbeck have also shown improvement while Blanshan shows good potential to develop. With this group training and competing with each other, Sloan expects to have at least three of these steeplechasers clock in at under nine minutes this year.
Robert Williams returns as WSU's top 110m hurdler after running a 14.22w time as a freshman. Barry Leavitt returned to school for the 2007 spring semester after two-years of church service and will provide good depth in the high hurdles (14.52), along with decathlete Kyle Schauble.
The intermediate hurdles is an event Sloan considers very strong, with high quality competitors and good depth. John Cassleman is the leader for the 400m hurdles after his fifth-place NCAA finish in 2006 and his PR time of 49.53. Leavitt's PR is 51.48 and he will train to reestablish a base during the indoor season. Williams has shown speed and strength in the intermediate hurdles and with stride pattern improvement, could be a big factor for the Cougs in both hurdle races.
The Cougars have a good one-two punch in the high jump this season. Freshman Trent Arrivey brings a 7-foot PR from high school and joins a leaner Kyle Eaton, a junior who has cleared 6-8 3/4 and shown improvement in training.
All-American pole vaulter Tyson Byers returns for his senior season with a PR clearance at 17-8 1/2. After an injury-riddled collegiate career, Byers looks strong and fast and is jumping well in the early training.
"We've worked real hard to keep him healthy this year," Sloan said. "If we can keep him healthy for an entire season I think Tyson will be one of the greatest vaulters in WSU history, if not the greatest. I think he has that ability and potential. He is highly motivated and eager to get the season started."
Providing good depth in the pole vault are junior DJ Brown, who has looked very good in the preseason, and freshman Josh Winters, who has good credentials coming into the program.
The long jump will feature the two WSU decathletes that will deviate from their main point of emphasis, the multi-events training, for the UW dual and conference meets. Junior Rickey Moody has a lifetime best of 24-7 1/4 and Sloan sees him reaching 25-feet. Freshman Kyle Schauble has a PR of 23-2.
Moreno Zapata is the lone WSU triple jumper but with good credentials (50-11 1/2w). Sloan has very high hopes for him developing and competing all the way through to the national level. Devin Timpson triple jumped in high school so he may train and become a backup competitor in this event.
The Cougars have a cadre of outstanding throwers for 2007 with discus being the strongest event. Matt Lamb, who earned All-America honors with his third-place finish at the NCAA last year and set the freshman school record of 189-9, has worked to build his muscle mass and strength. Lamb and senior Drew Ulrick have worked hard on their technique and Sloan credits Coach Debra Farwell for a great job of bringing them along and having them exceed their distances from the end of last season already. Chase Mancuso, mainly a hammer thrower now, was a prep state champion in the discus, and will see some competition in the event.
"With the new people coming in this year, the Pac-10 discus will be very, very tough but I think the Cougs will be right at the front and be the leaders hopefully right on up through the national level," Sloan said.
Lamb also has the top mark in the shot put of 55-feet, thrown indoors before he hurt his hand. An injury-free year could see him as a 60-foot shot putter. Ulrick is the number two thrower on the Cougs' list with Vic Asher starting to develop into a contributor in the shot. Freshmen Mike Demiter and Tony Moser will redshirt and work on developing their skills.
Phil MacArthur showed strong progress last season in the hammer and continued to improve in the off-season. He will emphasize hammer and do little with the indoor 35-pound weight this year, in order to remain healthy. Mancuso will give WSU depth in the hammer.
In the javelin, junior Jon Jeffreys threw a PR of 226-feet last year and Sloan looks for him to not only improve but be more consistent with longer throws. Senior Ryan Scott, a good team contributor over the years, will be expected to move up one more notch and be a Pac-10 scorer in his final season. Freshman Nathan Bache was an outstanding Montana prep thrower and has shown impressive development and potential. Freshman Mark Presby's development looks promising. Unfortunately, Cameron Schwisow will sit out the year after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow following an impressive redshirt freshman year.
Newcomers will don the Crimson unitard for the men's multi-events this year: junior Rickey Moody, with a PR of 6400 points, and freshman Kyle Schauble. Cougar junior middle distance runner Justin Chambers has also joined the multis and shown promise in early training.
"Rickey is terribly powerful and Kyle is going to be an outstanding decathlete but still has a lot of things to learn," Sloan said. "Justin has the size at 6-5 and 195 pounds to be a decathlete. His throwing and jumping events are starting to look pretty decent and we know he can run 1500m so we are going to continue to work on the things. These guys are coming along but it's going to be a development process because there is so much to work on in the decathlon."