Sept. 2, 2003
Jason Drake, in his second season as Washington State University's cross country coach, will face similar obstacles as his first. Although Drake has moved through the learning curve of coaching the Cougar distance program, and the athletes believe in his philosophy, the teams lack experience. Unlike last year's teams, which included only five women and seven men, WSU will be able to field full teams this time around but many of the new faces will be running their first collegiate races.
And there is even greater incentive to perform well since Washington State will host the Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Championships Nov. 1, on the WSU Golf Course.
WSU Men's Team Will Rely on Wolf and Johnson
This season's goal is to move up a spot or two following last season's fifth place finish in the Pac-10.
"If we can move up we might sneak into some pretty cool stuff," said Drake.
That task will be tougher than it sounds because of the top 30 runners in the Pac-10 last year only two graduated.
The men will be led by the tandem of Danny Wolf and Ian Johnson, the lead Cougar runners from the 2002 season.
Wolf, a junior is returning from a calf injury sustained during the indoor track season that caused him to redshirt in the spring. Wolf, however, posted an indoor time of 8 minutes, 5 seconds in the 3000m, last year prior to the injury. Now that he is healthy, Drake expects big things of him.
Johnson enters his senior season after working hard through the summer and is in better shape than he was at this point last season, according to Drake.
Mike Heidt, a junior, is another returnee who is expected to be a strong contributor. Last year, Heidt's personal best was 30:03 in the 10k.
Steven Barrus, a transfer senior from BYU, is the latest addition to the squad and is expected to make an impact. Barrus, who arrived in Pullman as a graduate student, turned out for the team late and will have to work his way into shape. He did, however, show his potential by beating Johnson and Wolf last year.
"I expect Barrus to bring experience to the team," Drake said.
Other returners include Reid Carrell, Justin Ireland and Ryan Freimuth. Carrell, a sophomore who was a contributor last season, is expected to step up this season with a bigger impact. Ireland, a junior who was on the competitive squad last season is looking good according to Drake, while Freimuth, a sophomore returning from a redshirt during the outdoor track season will also have an opportunity to contribute.
Drake also added five freshmen, all of whom were state champions last year.
Andrew Jones comes to WSU with the top credentials. Jones ran at the same high school Drake attended in Gillette, Wyo., and Jones won state championships in the 1600m as well as the 3200m last spring. He also competed at the Foot Locker meet and was a top 10 recruit nationally.
Matt Knoff joins the Cougars from Pocatello, Idaho, as a three-time cross country state champ. Alex Grant, from Bellingham, Wash., was the state 3A cross country champion. Geoff Casazza and Chris Concha arrive from Reno, Nev., as state champions in the 1600m and 3200m respectively, as juniors.
The final piece to the puzzle is Jesse Fayant, a sophomore from Spokane, who has transferred from the University of Washington. Fayant finished fourth in the Pac-10 in the 3k steeplechase as a freshman but will sit out this season as required by the NCAA.
Blue Set to Lead WSU Women's Team
The WSU women, like the men, will be inexperienced but the Cougs still expect to improve over last season's results. WSU finished sixth at the Pac-10 Championships last year, but it was a distant sixth.
"There was a big gap between us and fifth place," explained Drake. "We need to close that gap. If we could move into the top five I would get pretty excited."
The team will be led by fifth-year senior, Anna Blue. Blue, who will go down as the greatest women's distance runner in WSU's history, set four school records last year and owns five overall. She earned All-American honors in the 5k last spring when she finished sixth at the NCAA Championships. Drake expects her to be an All-American in cross country this season which would make her the first female athlete to earn All-America status in both track and cross country.
Blue will be supported by junior returnees, Molly Bull, Ana Cabrera, and Julia Corbett.
"All three are so far ahead of last year," said Drake, adding, "They'll be much better contributors this season."
Drake also expects as many as six freshmen could be major contributors this year.
"I expect the freshmen to step up to the fill the void from last year," explained Drake, who advertised in the school paper to fill the women's team in 2002.
Grace Coulter and Natalie Smith, both from Bellingham, Wash., Karen DeMartini, from Reno, Nev., Kayle Peterson from Port Orchard, Wash., Kelly Ramirez, from Duvall, Wash., and Katie Troy from Bellevue, Wash., will all be fighting for time on the competitive roster.
"They all had good summers of training," Drake said. "At this point I don't know who we will use in competition this fall."
Drake has positioned the Cougars to be better in 2003, but sees even bigger strides possible in 2004.
"We are light years ahead of where we were a year ago," said Drake. "Each year we just want to do a little better than the year before."