If it's the last weekend in April, that must mean it's time for the annual Washington vs. Washington State dual track & field meet.
One of collegiate track & field's oldest rivalries resumes Saturday at the newly built Husky Outdoor Track Facility just north of the Husky Soccer Field.
According to WSU records, the Dawgs and Cougs will meet for the 97th time, with WSU leading the series 62-32-1. Washington's release says that the series is 61-34-1; whatever it is, the Cougs have had the Huskies' number historically.
The women's dual meet series, which began in 1979, is more clearcut, with Washington holding a 21-16 lead all time.
In last year's meet, WSU used a sweep of the men's 3000 (left/photo by Paul Merca) to win the meet 87-76, while the Husky women emerged victorious 89-74.
The UW/WSU meet will be streamed live via pac-12.com
Before I post my prediction, Jesse Squire, who compiles the collegiate dual meet rankings for Track & Field News, runs the awesome tracksuperfan.com, and is now part of a new track & field web site, dailyrelay.com, has graciously written his take on this intense rivalry meeting.
All indications are that both meets will be very close. The latest editions of the Track and Field News dual meet rankings – compiled by yours truly – show Washington at #15 and Washington State at #17 for the women, and Washington State at #10 and Washington at #11 on the men's side. Paul Merca's preliminary dope sheets showed the women's meet clinched in the second-to-last event, and the men's meet coming down to the 4x400 relay.
So what events will determine the winner? In a meet this close, the answer is all of them. The unexpected happens, an unlikely hero can come from nowhere, or a superstar can become a goat. But if I were to rank the events in terms of how influential they might be, here is how I see it.
Pole vaulting is unpredictable in general, but especially so in a dual meet. UW's Logan Miller is the best in the field, but even the best of athletes can no-height in the vault. With four good vaulters in the field, two from each team, literally anything could happen here. If it's anything but a 5-4 split, it will give a huge leg up to whichever team comes out ahead.
The javelin is early in the schedule, but the field is very strong. These two teams bring seven of the Pac-12's top 13 throwers. UW's Jordin Seekins was an upset winner at Oregon's Pepsi Team Invitational. Paul dopes this one as 6-3 in favor of the Cougs.
The Huskies are one of the nation's powerhouses in women's distance running, and Paul predicts a 9-0 sweep for them. That could clinch the meet. Just one Cougar sneaking in for a point or two could keep it alive going into the 4x400 relay.
This is the last field event on the slate. WSU's Mary Barnett is the favorite while UW depends on a pair of freshmen, Alyx Toeina and Beverly Coleman. Toeina beat Barnett at the Pepsi Team Invitational, but pressure could get to the rookies. Paul dopes this as 5-4 for Washington State.
Again, Washington's strength in the distance events presumes a 9-0 sweep. Washington State's Ruby Roberts might be able to sneak in for a point, and it would be huge for the Cougars if she did.
Washington's best time this season is about a second and a half faster than Washington State's, but throw that out the window. Everyone on both relay will already have run one or two events, so the most important variable is who has the most gas left. And if someone comes up hurt, then an alternate can play a major role.
The two teams are decently closely matched, but things happen in the 4x100. Disaster can strike at any time. With "classic" dual meet scoring of 5-0 in relays, they're crucial. Paul has Washington winning.
The top four entrants in the meet are WSU's Travis Pickett, Ryan Randall and Chris Baltazar and UW's Robert Henderson. Their best marks this season are all within 18 inches of each other. It's a totally pick-em event. Note that when these two teams met at Oregon's Pepsi Team Invitational, Henderson fouled out and scored no points for the Huskies. Paul dopes this as 5-4 in favor of Washington but the Cougs have three good throwers to the Huskies' one.
The 800 meters is generally an unpredictable event. Add that some athletes may be doubling back, such as UW's Michael Miller and WSU's Todd Wakefield, and it's extra unpredictable. Paul dopes this as 5-4 in favor of the Cougars.
WSU's Oliver Henry should win this, but second and third are up for grabs and that's where duals are won and lost. Robert Henderson is UW's one real shot to score here; Paul dopes this as 8-1 for the Cougs.
A sweep by Washington State is a distinct possibility, and that's how Paul has it doped. The discus will probably be finishing up during this race, and those two events are probably the strongest for the Cougs. So if the Huskies have a commanding lead going into this race, the lead could melt away in a matter of minutes. But if a single Husky runner crashes the party, someone like Tyler King, it could be decisive.
A statistical note: Marie Lawrence's steeplechase meet record is the second-fastest ever run in a collegiate dual meet. The record is 9:51.65 by Arizona State's Lisa Aguilera in 2003.
Final score: I'm going 85-78 Huskies in the women's meet, and 84-79 Cougars!
In the women's meet, I have Washington winning 83-80, with the four field events (hammer, javelin, pole vault, and long jump) key for the Dawgs. They must get off to a good start, and get 21 points from those four events.
One of the X factors early is WSU's Charlotte Muschamp, who is entered in the high jump and triple jump, and is expected to score. She's also entered in the long jump, where she does not have a mark this season. Triple jumpers can long jump.
The Washington women have a lot of entries in the distance races (800 meters & up), but who actually runs in what event is shrouded in mystery, and may remain so up until the starter calls for sweats off. We're assuming this is a strategic decision on coach Greg Metcalf's part--with the talent he has in his arsenal, he can afford to do that.
If Washington State can get more than 3 points out of the trio of Caroline Austin, Ruby Roberts, and Courtney Zalud in the distance races, consider that a victory. The Cougs need some production out of those three to have a chance of taking the W to Pullman.
The shot put is the final women's field event of the day, with WSU's Mary Barnett the favorite. I'm in agreement with Jesse that freshman throwers Alex Toeaina and Beverly Coleman must stay close to Barnett, and not let the big-meet pressure get to them. The 3000 will be going on about the same time, and if the two Huskies do their job, the meet's over and Washington wins.
On the men's side, I'm in agreement that the two relays will play a large part in the meet's outcome, which I have at 87-76 Washington.
In reality, the men's meet has the potential to be a close Husky win, or if things go against the dope chart, a blowout win for WSU.
I have the hammer, long jump, 110 hurdles, and both short dashes as being key swing events, with solid favorites for the win, and the second and third place finishers crucial for either squad.
In my view, the Huskies must pile on the points before 3:00 pm if they want to win, as I have the Cougs coming out ahead in the triple jump, 800 (with the Huskies' Derrick Daigre an X factor, after he finished second to Olympian Andrew Wheating last week at the Oregon Relays. Daigre ran unattached), 400 hurdles, discus, and 3000.
Should both my predictions of a UW victory come to fruition, I have a hunch that somebody named Greg Metcalf may be going swimming in the steeplechase pit.
Below is my dope sheet, which you can print and take with you to the meet.
NOTE: Thanks to Jesse Squire for contributing to this article!