Thursday, October 27, 2011

Husky women have big target on their backs heading to Pac-12s; can Cougar men prove they belong?

Nearly a fortnight after winning the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and vaulting all the way to the number 2 national ranking in the latest USTFCCCA coaches' poll from #24, the University of Washington Huskies are the hunted as they vie for the first Pac-12 cross country title Saturday in Litchfield Park, Arizona.

The addition of Colorado to the men's and women's races and Utah to the women's races just adds further depth to what was already widely considered the toughest conference races nationally. The women's race features all 12 conference teams, six of which are currently ranked by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Washington is ranked second, followed by No. 5 Arizona, No. 8 Stanford, No. 10 California, No. 11 Oregon, and No. 16 Colorado.

Sophomore Katie Flood (left/photo by Paul Merca), who was Washington's top runner at last year's Pac-10 Championships in Seattle, is expected to be the Huskies' lead runner, along with sophomore Justine Johnson. Former Foot Locker national champ Megan Goethals, NACAC junior cross country champ Chelsea Orr, and senior Christine Babcock, the lone remaining runner from the 2008 national championship team, are also expected to make an impact in Saturday's race.

It may be a bit of a struggle for the Cougars to place in the top six in the conference. According to coach Pete Julian, "The conference is incredibly tough. I think there are probably six teams ranked in the top 15 in the country - maybe top 12. We are not quite there yet. But then there is that second half of the conference that I think we can do pretty well against, and that's our objective this weekend. We are probably a year away from, I believe, cracking into that top 20, but we can certainly make some in-roads towards those things this year."

Courtesy of gohuskies.com, here's a video interview with Husky sophomore Katie Flood:



On the men's side, the Cougars expect to be in the thick of things, with defending champ Stanford, and newcomer Colorado the favorites to win the first conference title meet.

"The men - it is kind of peculiar. I think Colorado and Stanford are certainly the class of the field. They are both very strong programs - top five programs in the country. After that, there is ourselves, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State. We could run really quite well and have a great meet, maybe be a few points behind third and end up sixth. It is that condensed in there, and I think the national rankings reflect that too. I think we are all in there between 18th and 23rd nationally ranked. It is a really strong conference. There will be a great team that finishes fifth or sixth at that meet."

The Washington men have struggled this season with injuries and illnesses to seniors Max O'Donoghue-McDonald and Cameron Quackenbush, and a group that hasn't quite found their groove this season, though junior Joey Bywater has been the one constant up front for the Huskies this season.

Courtesy of wsucougars.com, here's Cougar coach Julian previewing the meet:



The University of Washington's release is available here, while Washington State's release is available here.

FOX Sports Arizona will stream the meet live on their web site beginning at 9 am on Saturday with the men's 8k race, followed by the women's 6k race at 10 am.

You can access it via this link.

Arizona's Lawi Lalang is the heavy favorite to win the individual men's title, while defending champ Jordan Hasay of Oregon will battle Colorado's Emma Coburn, the NCAA & USA steeple champ, with a slew of women including California's Deborah Maier, Arizona's Jen Bergman and Elvin Kibet, Stanford's Kathy Kroeger, Colorado's Shalaya Kipp, and the Huskies' Flood expected to be at the front of the pack.

NOTE:  The University of Washington and Washington State University sports information offices contributed to this report.

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