Friday, October 24, 2014

IN RETROSPECT: The 2008 UW cross country team...

Members of the current University of Washington women's
cross country team pose with members of the 2008 national
championship team (in purple jackets).  Paul Merca photo
SEATTLE--It was one of the most amazing season-long accomplishments I've covered in my career.

Sure, in my career covering track & field, I've witnessed numerous world records, met and/or interviewed a countless number of the world's best athletes, coaches, agents, and others involved in the sport.

But from beginning to end, covering the 2008 University of Washington women's cross country team was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my years covering the sport.

As longtime Seattle Supersonics broadcaster Kevin Calabro would have said, we were all on a magic carpet ride with the 2008 Huskies.

All those thoughts about that magical season came back to life when I attended the University of Washington Husky Hall of Fame celebration Thursday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, as the squad was honored and inducted into the school's hall of fame, along with 2000 US Olympic 4 x 400 relay pool member Ja'Warren Hooker and hurdler Dave Williams.

It all started about a week or so before the Huskies' first meet, when I met freshmen Kendra Schaaf and Christine Babcock (left/photo by Paul Merca) for the first time at the Dempsey Indoor facility.  I had seen both of them run before they came to Washington--Schaaf at the world junior cross country championships in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Babcock at the Olympic Trials in Eugene.

At the season opening Sundodger meet, Schaaf blew up the course record at Lincoln Park, running 19:58, becoming the first woman to break 20 minutes, and leading a not-quite-full strength Husky team to the Sundodger title.

As a footnote to that 2008 Sundodger race--finishing fifth was a gal from UC Davis by the name of Kim Conley, who would go on to make the US Olympic team four years later in the 5000m.

The Huskies, who started the season ranked #3 in the USTFCCCA pre-season poll, moved up to #1 after a convincing win at the Auburn Invitational in Alabama, placing seven in the top nine, then followed it up with another convincing win at the Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Indiana two weeks later.

Those races did not prepare me for what I was to witness in person, beginning on Halloween afternoon at the Springfield Golf Course in Springfield, Oregon, when the Huskies accomplished the first perfect score of 15 in Pac-10 history, going 1-6.

“I’ve used the word ‘synergy’ to describe this team all year long. It started a year ago, when we finished eighth at the NCAA meet, running an average race. Last summer, we had girls running at the Olympic Trials here, and our entire team gained momentum from that experience.”

Two weeks later, the Huskies ran without Schaaf, who instead ran a workout under Metcalf's supervision before the race at the Stanford Golf Course, as the Dawgs had a 1-5 split of 11 seconds to win the NCAA regionals, led by Babcock's third place finish.

That set the stage for Washington's victory on a cold, blustery day in Terre Haute, Indiana, as the two freshmen--Babcock and Schaaf--led the Husky charge with their seventh and twelfth place finish, as they ran 20:02, and 20:18, pulling three other Huskies--Mel Lawrence (25th, 20:33), Katie Follett (26th, 20:33), and Amanda Miller (34th, 20:37) into the top 40.

Washington scored 79 points to win the national title, followed by Oregon with 131, Florida State with 163, and West Virginia with 198.

Out of the core group that won the national title for the UW, Katie (Follett) Mackey, Babcock and Lawrence continue to run as professionals--Mackey for Brooks, and Babcock and Lawrence for Oiselle, with the rest moving on with their lives, whether as moms, graduate students or out in the work place.  Anita Campbell is back at the UW, as an assistant track coach for the Huskies, mentoring the current group of women distance runners in the same manner that Kelly Strong did when the 2008 team made its run.

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