Cougar Men Return With Experience, Depth
While no one runner stands out for the WSU men's cross country team, several are capable of leading the 2001 charge, according to fourth-year Head Coach James Li.
"It's going to be a very exciting team," Li said. "No one is quite at the level that Bernard Lagat was back in 1998 (third at NCAA Championships), but I think this team can be every bit as good and maybe even better than the 1998 team (18th at NCAAs)."
Seniors Oscar Franco-Parra and Jon Welsh are at the forefront of the Cougar pack. They were the top two runners last year and had a great track season last spring.
"Both Oscar and Jon have improved very significantly," Li said. "They will be our leaders, especially when we move up to 10k."
Following closely behind will be redshirt sophomores Will Thrift and Ian Johnson, and junior Kyle Barker. Thrift did not enroll at WSU until spring semester but proved to be a good distance runner and Li thinks cross country will be very suitable for him. Ian Johnson redshirted last year but looked very good in his freshman season early races and had a good track season last spring. Barker placed fifth in the steeplechase at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships and ran well all spring. Li expects all three to show improvement this fall and be contributing members to the team.
Senior Scott Johnson has been very consistent over the years with few ups and downs. Mark Wicklander, a junior, is not as consistent but Li notes that when he is up, he is a very good runner.
Dan Wolf is one of three freshmen who will have the best chance to contribute this fall. Wolf, from Reno, Nev., proved to be a good two-miler but will need a little bit of a transition from high school to college running.
"Dan's high school time of 9:09 minutes for 3200m makes him one of the bigger recruits we've had come into the program in quite a few years," Li said.
Mike Heidt joins the Cougars after capturing the Washington state 3A cross country championship title last year while at Selah High.
"Mike Heidt will be another freshman who will be very good," Li said. "I expect him to be more of a longer distance runner so cross country will suit him well."
Freshman Justin Ireland, from Issaquah, Wash., and Jon Manthey from Federal Way, Wash., are more middle distance specialists but will provide quality depth to the squad.
"That's a good and deep team. No one is as good as Bernard Lagat in 1998, but we have quite a few who are as good as our second man that year," Li said. "For the last couple years, we've been saying this is a young team but now they have to come through. I hope they've paid their dues and this year is going to be the time for them to come out and actually get something done."
Cougar Women Have Big Shoes to Fill
Last season the Cougar women finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Championships, the highest finish in nine years. But with the graduation of Alishia Booterbaugh, and All-American Megan Maynard having eligibility remaining in only track, the Washington State women's team needs to step up a notch to get back to that standing again in 2001.
Senior Ryan (ry-anne) Gilmore will be WSU's top returner. Gilmore was the Cougars top placer last year, finishing 11th at the conference meet and 14th at the NCAA West Regional. Her consistent improvement will set the standard for the rest of the team.
"Ryan is definitely our strongest returnee," Li said. "We have to pick it up from there."
Junior Anna Blue struggled last year during cross country but Li knew she was a much better runner. Blue proved him correct, settled into form during the indoor season and continued running well in the outdoor season.
Ana Cabrera, a sophomore, and Jenny Filipy, a senior, have trained a lot during the summer but Li said they will have to perform consistently to really help the team this fall.
Junior Greta Johnson is still a question mark as to whether she is going to redshirt or run this fall. After missing the spring season with a stress fracture, she is healing and running daily but Li may elect to take a slower and safer approach this fall.
"We have to decide about her redshirt later in the season, before the important meets," Li said. "We need to see what is best for her physically and mentally."
Hilary Smith, a redshirt sophomore, ran well last fall until she broke her toe and had to redshirt. Smith is mainly a middle distance runner but Li feels she's mentally ready to move up to the longer distance.
Among the newcomers is a name associated with great running and WSU. Everlyne Lagat, Bernard Lagat's younger sister, is a transfer from Malone College in Ohio. Everlyne, a junior in cross country, was the NAIA Cross Country champion last year and feels ready to meet the challenges of competing where her brother found so much success.
Freshmen Brittney Boysen, from Maple Valley, Wash., Molly Bull, from Oak Harbor, Wash., and Julia Corbett, from Bremerton, Wash., will challenge for a spot on the traveling squad.
"Brittney and Molly were middle distance runners in high school but both can be a contributing factor while Julia Corbett did well in cross country at Olympic High," Li said.
Washington State Cross Country Schedule
"Traveling to two big meets out of our region is my dream schedule," said Li, who spent nearly three weeks near the end of summer at Beijing, China, as the head manager and distance coach for the United States men's team competing at the 2001 World University Games.
The WSU men and women open competition at the Idaho Invitational meet, a race described by Li as a shorter distance tune-up race with little travel. The next weekend the Cougs host the WSU Invitational with Idaho, Eastern Washington and Gonzaga racing a women's 4k and a men's 6k.
Staying in the Northwest, WSU then travels to the Sundodger Invitational at Seattle where the Cougar top runners will get in a tune-up meet with good quality area competition.
The last weekend in September, the WSU teams split up with the top seven runners going to the Roy Griak Invitational at Minneapolis, and the rest of team competing at the Pasco Big Cross Meet.
The month of October begins with an open weekend where the Cougars will some training in. Then it's off to the Furman Invitational in Greenville, S.C., for the pre-NCAA meet, followed by another open date to prepare for the Pac-10 Championships at Gilbert, Ariz. The first weekend in November is also open prior to the NCAA West Regional at Tucson, Ariz., and the NCAA Championships back at Greenville, SC.
"It's a very strong region and both our men's and women's teams look to finish higher in the Pac-10," Li said. "The region is so strong that we need the two big meets early on in Minneapolis and Greenville, to establish our record and beat some teams. Then we need to finish up reasonably high in the region - top four or five - and then we should have a good chance of making it to the NCAA Championships."
"I think we will have the best men's and women's teams in years," Li predicts.