This is the latest installment in the FloXC Countdown. For the full list of the top teams and individuals, click here. Today, the #4 men's team, the Washington Huskies.
For Washington men’s coach Andy Powell, the tension is between now and later.
The Huskies' second-year coach has a roster filled with proven veterans, top-notch transfers, and promising freshmen.
“I know we can be really good in two years, but I also want to live for the moment, too,” Powell said.
The ultimate answer to that dilemma will be revealed when Powell decides who will race this year and who will redshirt. An extra season will give his stud recruiting class time to develop and the transfers an opportunity to get experience in the program.
Powell’s years at Oregon gave him an abundance of experience with championship teams. But all the moving parts of this year’s team is a unique challenge.
“This is a first for me,” Powell said.
This year, they could be a podium team, but next season they could be in the hunt for a national title. The template for such a decision was laid out four seasons ago when NAU redshirted key pieces of their team.
The cost? They didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships. The reward? NAU reeled off three consecutive titles since.
“It was a crazy, bold move for them,” Powell said. “I don’t think I could go that extreme and redshirt the whole group.”
Powell hasn’t yet made any decisions, and even if he does sit some of his projected top five, he’s confident that they will be able to put a strong team on the line. It’s a good problem to have.
“I would like as many people running in two years as possible just because of the way our freshmen will develop. We could have a really good team in two years,” Powell said. “If someone is ready to go [this season] and they really, really want to run, I’m not going to redshirt them.”
Last year, Powell’s first at Washington, was without expectations. Even after 13 years of success at Oregon, it was assumed that it would take time to get it rolling in Seattle. Last year, they finished sixth at the NCAA Championships, exceeding projections.
Powell’s current philosophy at Washington originated when he ran for Vin Lananna at Stanford.
“What Vin did at Stanford is what we did at Oregon,” Powell said. “Everything I did at Oregon, I’m doing at Washington. Maybe more, because as the head coach you have control of things.”
Recruiting at Washington, headed up by Powell’s assistant Chris Kwiatkowski, has been easier than at Oregon, according to Powell. The allure of the city of Seattle and the academic reputation of Washington, combined with the excitement surrounding the coaching change, has helped the school land several top recruits.
At the top of that list are Sam Tanner and Joe Waskom. Tanner, the 19-year-old from New Zealand, ran 3:58 for the mile in March. Waskom ran 4:03 in the mile and 8:54 in the two-mile.
“At Oregon, I always had really talented runners and I always made sure I didn’t overtrain them, like thoroughbreds. I’m starting to get that same thing at Washington,” Powell said.
Restraint will be a priority. Powell told his freshmen that anything they provided this first year is a bonus. While the future looks good, the present isn’t bad, either.
Tibebu Proctor returns for his junior season as Washington’s top returner for the national meet. He was 38th in Madison, the cap to a season in which he made enormous improvements (Proctor was 172nd at NCAAs in 2017). In the track season, he was fourth in the 10,000m at the Pac 12 Championships. Cross country is his strength, though. Powell says Proctor is a future marathoner. He runs the most miles on the team and reminds Powell of former Oregon great Luke Puskedra.
“Both those guys can run forever,” Powell said.
Proctor is one of only two members of the last year’s top five that is back for 2019. But the losses of Tanner Anderson (18th at NCAAs) and Fred Huxam (58th) were alleviated when Washington brought in transfers Andrew Jordan and Jack Rowe.
Jordan, who placed 46th last year and 15th in 2017 for Iowa State, is at full health after suffering a stress reaction in his metatarsal in April. Jordan took 12th in the 3000m at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March and has a lifetime best of 7:51 in the event. Powell thinks Jordan can help the team right away.
Rowe comes from San Francisco, where he placed 83rd at NCAAs in 2018 and ran 13:54 in the 5000m this spring on the track. Both Jordan and Rowe are seniors, though neither has used a redshirt year.
Talon Hull was Washington’s fifth man in Madison in 80th place, but he was second at the Pac 12 Championships. Steeplechaser Alex Slennig should be able to contribute after a good freshman season. There’s also Sam Ritz, a transfer from Colombia, freshmen Sam Affolder and Daniel Maton, and 2018’s seventh man Gavin Parpart.
Powell has plenty of options. He’s clear that that they aren’t going to sandbag the season. They have enough depth to where podium spot is possible even if they hold out key pieces in order to make a big run in the future. But the truest measure of this year’s team might be what it yields for next fall.