Monday, April 29, 2013

Case number one on why dual meets are important in college track and field...

There were no rabbits in the distance races.

There wasn't an attempt at a sub-4 minute mile (then again, they ran the 1500).

There almost was an 18-foot vault by the Huskies' Jax Thoirs.

There were no mentions in either school's recap about how many athletes they qualified for the conference championships, or for that matter, automatic and provisional qualifiers, which unfortunately is the standard operating procedure in what seems like every track & field release put out by NCAA Division II and III schools (then again in the Pac-12, there is no real qualifying mark but there is a total limit on how many athletes you can bring, and in NCAA Division I, there's the West & East Regional meet that decides who goes to nationals).

There was a winning team.

There was a losing team.

Get this--the meet got coverage from the state's biggest newspaper, the Seattle Times, and even a photo spread on its web site!

And there were a lot of young men and women wearing either purple and gold singlets or crimson and grey scraping, scratching and clawing for points for their schools.

More than hitting qualifying standards, Saturday's Washington/Washington State dual meet was about having your teammates' backs.

Ask Ruby Roberts of Washington State and Howard Lao of Washington.

Ask Shawna Fermin.  Ask Danny Shelton.

The junior from Kingston, Washington was in a best case scenario, good for a third place finish in most of the pre-meet projections in the 1500 meter race against the vaunted Husky distance crew that included Megan Goethals, the new school record holder in the 5000 and 10000, and Christine Babcock, who qualified for the US Olympic Trials and held the national high school record in the 1500 at one time.

Roberts held her own and beat Goethals in the last few steps to win the race in a time of 4:20.18, 2/10ths of a second ahead of Goethals, last year's NCAA 5000 meter runner-up.

In the men's 110 hurdles, which was projected as an 8-1 win for the Huskies, Lao took advantage of a misstep over the last few barriers by WSU's Ramsey Hopkins, who placed third in last year's conference meet, to get third and the extra point to make it 9-0 Washington, behind teammates Chris Williams and Shayne Moore.

Like a punt return run back for a touchdown, or an alley oop for a dunk at a crucial point in the game, both of those races swung the momentum of the meet, and set up fantastic finishes.

Near the conclusion of the men's 3000, shot putter Danny Shelton, who had just survived several weeks of spring football for the Huskies, and led the event for the first five stanzas, suddenly found himself in second place after WSU's John Fullington took the lead in the sixth round with a toss of 50-8 3/4 (15.46m), responded with a big toss of 53-1 1/2 (16.19m) to get the win.

With Tyler King and Aaron Nelson's 2-3 finish in the 3000 behind the Cougars' Todd Wakefield happening about the same time as Shelton's shot put heroics, those events slammed the door on the Cougars' chances of leaving Seattle with another win in this meet.

In the winner-take-all 4 x 400 meter relay, Fermin, one of the conference's best 400 meter runners, calmly made up ground on UW anchor Gianna Woodruff to lead the Cougs to a 3:42.99 to 3:44.98 victory, an event they were expected to win.

However, Shawna Fermin's heroics in the final event would not have been possible without Roberts' win in the 1500.  

Years from now, very few people will remember how fast these young men and women ran, jumped or threw.  I have no idea how many can rattle off the final score of the dual meet (it was the UW men winning 92-71, and the WSU women winning 86-77). But people will remember the excitement in the stands, and the start of a new tradition of Husky winners running up the home straight and high-fiving the crowd, something that you never saw at Husky Stadium.

Granted, the meet was made even more special by the fact that this was the first meet on the Huskies' new purple track and that the school tied the annual dual against the Cougars to a huge track alumni event that included a Friday night dinner, and yes, a beer garden near the finish line for the alums!

Now, I've never attended USC/UCLA, Harvard/Yale, Cal/Stanford, or any of the other big rivalry meets, but meets like this will help make college track and field more relevant to the average Joe that most likely has no clue about personal bests, automatic or provisional qualifying, or any of the mumbo jumbo that makes the sport so damn hard to follow unless you're intimately involved with it.

Did your team win or did your team lose?  That's what casual fans can relate to.

It would be awesome if some of the other schools in this state made dual meets part of their schedule--can you imagine SeattleU vs Eastern Washington, Eastern Washington vs Gonzaga (if the school ever made the commitment to be more than a distance running program), Western Washington vs Seattle Pacific or Western vs Central?

I'd love to see Washington State fire up their alums for this meet next year the way Washington got their alums jacked.  Hell, I'd love to see the UW alums and parents set up a tailgate party before the meet next year across the street from Mooberry Track.  The moment any of those things happen, I think you'll see this dual meet taken to a new level!

I will guarantee you this--having a dual meet will galvanize your alumni and fan base a lot more than competing in a whole season's worth of invitational meets!

NOTE:  Photo of Washington's Matt Anthony acknowledging the crowd courtesy University of Washington.

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