Updated: Jan 13
Alright, I'll admit it.
Certain teams are more fun to write about than others.
The Washington Huskies? Well, they are one of those teams.
Both Andy and Maurica Powell made headlines in the summer of 2018 when it was announced that they would be taking over the cross country and track programs at Washington. On the distance side, it was a huge move, but no one expected the Huskies to be as competitive as they were in their first year under Coach Powell.
In the minds of many, it was going to take two or three years before Powell was going to be able to mold the program into his grand vision...right?
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The fall of 2018 was an incredible one for a Washington program that had just undergone a massive identity shift. Thanks to the introduction of Coach Powell, the Huskies had the luxury of adding a veteran transfer to the team (Tanner Anderson). With a legendary coach and top scorer now on the roster, it was clear that we were seeing a new era of Washington distance running.
The team's first legitimate meet of the season would take place at the Battle of Beantown in Boston which was highlighted by top-tier distance squads such as Syracuse, Ole Miss, and Virginia. However, the Huskies didn't come all the way to the east coast to be intimidated. Instead, they put together a very encouraging performance.
Tanner Anderson proved his worth as a low-stick by placing 6th overall in a strong individual field. In 11th and 12th place were Tibebu Proctor and Talon Hull, two talented sophomores who would end up bringing immense value to this team as the season progressed.
With Julius Diehr and Mohammed Moussa finishing 17th and 24th overall, the Huskies were able to secure a team score of 70 points which was enough to defeat an up-and-coming Ole Miss team and an established Virginia squad. Despite losing to Syracuse by a significant margin, it was hard to be upset with the result. For Powell's first showing in purple and gold, it was a great start to their 2018 season.
But the success didn't stop or plateau at Pre-Nats. If anything, the Washington men used that performance to jump-start the rest of their season. Coach Powell's team would eventually go on to the Pre-Nats White race where they shocked the nation with a huge 2nd place finish.
Although they would end up behind BYU, the Huskies soundly defeated a Syracuse squad who had originally trounced them two weeks prior. The star of this race was Tibebu Proctor who locked down a huge 6th place finish to give Washington some pleasantly surprising firepower. Not far behind were Tanner Anderson in 11th and Talon Hull in 13th, finishes that would provide Washington with a lethal 1-2-3. Despite a few gaps after those two, guys like Fred Huxham (34th) and Moussa (41st) found ways to keep the excessive scoring to a minimum.
When you look at their overall performance, it suddenly became clear to fans around the country what kind of impact Powell was having on the Seattle-based university. In only a matter of months, Washington was transforming from a respectable PAC-12 program to one of the best teams in the nation.
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The postseason only validated everything we knew. At the PAC-12 Championships, Talon Hull nearly upset Grant Fisher for the individual title, settling for 2nd in a wild kick to the finish. Not far behind was Anderson in 9th while the rest of the team did an incredible job at keeping their gaps to a minimum. Their final three scorers would finish 14th (Proctor), Snyder (17th), and 20th (Huxham).
The Stanford men would ultimately pull away for the conference title thanks to their overwhelming firepower, but Washington still pulled off a key upset over Colorado, securing a runner-up finish by 20 points.
After a calculated and a conservative effort at the West Regional Championships (where the team still secured an automatic bid to the national meet), it was time for Powell and his crew to return to Madison, Wisconsin for the Big Dance.
Generally speaking, it would have been easy for the Washington men to crumble under the pressure. They were one of the most hyped-up teams in the country and had the attention of distance running fans around the country thanks to their star head coach. Given the inexperience of guys like Proctor and Hull, it would've been understandable to see this team whiff on their high expectations.
But instead, they shattered them.
Anderson had one of the greatest race of his life, finishing 19th overall while being flanked by Proctor who secured an All-American finish of his own in 38th place. Veterans Fred Huxham and Andy Snyder proved to be the key differentiators in all of this as they earned finishes of 58th and 67th, respectively. With Talon Hull rounding out the scoring in 80th place, the Huskies ended up totaling a team score of 213 points.
It was good for 6th place overall, the team's best national meet finish in 25 years.
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How can you not be excited about the Washington Huskies in 2019? After what we saw from them last year, it's hard to think of them going anywhere else but up this fall...especially with their newest roster additions.
Yes, I'll admit that the loss of veteran leadership from last year's team will hurt. Tanner Anderson will be sorely missed, but much like Kawhi Leonard, he was a superstar with the assigned understanding that he was going to be a one-year rental (and man, did both of those rentals pay off).
What will really be a tough pill to swallow will be the loss of experienced, elder scorers such as Andy Snyder, Mahmoud Moussa, and Fred Huxham. Snyder and Huxham were a huge reason why the Huskies were able to stay competitive in the postseason. Their ability to bring incredible scoring stability and consistency to the backend of Washington's lineup was arguably more valuable than the scoring potency that we saw from their top three.
Still, there are plenty of positives to take away from their 2019 returners. Tibebu Proctor and Talon Hull are two of the most promising distance runners in the country this year. Their progression throughout the 2018 cross country season, along with what they did on the track, could put them in elite company over the next months.
Proctor was an individual All-American and challenged for the win at the Pre-Nats White race. Hull, on the other hand, was quietly consistent and nearly pulled off one of the biggest upset wins of the 2018-2019 calendar year at the PAC-12 Championships.
Both of these men are expected to bring key firepower to this squad in 2019, and given their resumes, that shouldn't be too much to ask for.
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Of course, Proctor and Hull can't carry this team on their own...which is why Coach Powell went out and brought in one of the most talented distance runners in the country.
Andrew Jordan comes to Seattle after a successful, albeit inconsistent, stint with the Iowa State Cyclones. A handful of injuries eventually forced Jordan to explore options outside of Ames, Iowa which ultimately landed him with the men of Washington.
Having a guy like Jordan on Washington's roster is huge. In 2017, Jordan was a back-to-back 4th place finisher at the BIG 12 and Midwest Regional Championships. He went on to finish 15th at the NCAA Championships is what is still, hands-down, the greatest race of his career (and this is a guy who owns a personal best of 7:51 for 3000 meters).
Unfortunately, his 2018 season wasn't ideal. Jordan reportedly struggled with injuries, putting himself in a position where he had limited training. The results were still solid (31st at Nuttycombe, 46th at Nationals), but it was clear that Jordan wasn't at 100%.
If Andrew Jordan can stay healthy and complete a full block of training, it is not at all unrealistic to think that he couldn't return to the version of himself that we saw in 2017. If he comes back at full strength, he will very easily replace the scoring potency that Tanner Anderson left behind.
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But what about the rest of the lineup? What will the rest of this varsity seven look like?
Well, Powell had a solution for that as well and it came in the form of Jack Rowe. The San Francisco transfer was one of the most underrated distance runners in the West region last fall. Despite a few underwhelming regular season performances, the Great Britain native locked down a 5th place finish at the West Regional Championships before individually qualifying for Nationals where he placed 83rd overall.
On the track, Rowe holds personal bests which are actually faster than anything Andrew Jordan has run. This past spring, Rowe ran times of 13:54 and 28:50, showing clear progression all while validating himself as a top-ranked distance runner.
Admittedly, his regular season performances will need to improve. He's a bit inconsistent at times and doesn't always show off his true potential. Still, Rowe will bring incredible value to this team. He doesn't need to be a superstar low-stick, he just needs to give Washington a capable #4 runner. Of course, based on what we saw from him this past spring, Rowe could very easily exceed those expectations come November.
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Jordan and Rowe are exciting new pieces, but what makes this team so much fun to talk about is their depth. We know that Washington will be good this fall, we just don't necessarily know with what pieces...
I could go on forever talking about the best recruiting class in the country, but I'll simply redirect you to this article. The group may be young, but they are so absurdly talented that it feels almost ridiculous to suggest that at least one of them won't find their way into the Washington lineup this fall.
Of course, outside of those recruits are a handful of other respectable talents.
The big name that I am watching this fall is Alex Slenning. The rising sophomore had a very under-the-radar cross country season in 2018, but had a huge breakout season on the outdoor oval. As just a freshman, Slenning ran a personal best of 8:43 in the steeplechase at the West Regional Championships and later went on to win the national title at the U20 USA Championships in the same event.
Slenning is way too talented to not be a part of this lineup in 2019. An 8:43 steeplechaser being left out of a varsity seven is typically unheard of. I like the youth and potential upside that he brings to the table and I think he could be a major addition to the Huskies' title hopes this fall.
However, even if Slenning doesn't work out, there's still a slew of talent behind him that could contribute. 8:46 steeplechaser Julius Diehr returns to the program after appearing inside of Washington's top five at the Battle of Beantown. Both him and Nicholas Laccinole, an 8:55 steeplechaser in own right, will bring outstanding depth to an already loaded roster.
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On paper, this team looks incredible. They will need a lot of things to go their way this fall, but I like to think that this group could contend for the national title this fall.
However, the one thing that we have to keep in mind is redshirts - a lot of them.
Andrew Jordan has used a redshirt season in both indoor and outdoor track, but he has run three straight seasons of cross country without a redshirt...so what if the team decided to redshirt him this fall?
As absurd as that may sound, it is truthfully a phenomenal long-term plan.
We have detailed the "Tank for the Title" concept over, and over, and over again. If Washington wants to win a national title as a team, they may want to preserve the eligibility of guys like Andrew Jordan, Jack Rowe, and Julius Diehr (if he hasn't already) who will be unable to compete on the cross country course after this year if they do toe the line in a Washington singlet this fall.
By redshirting these older scorers, Coach Powell would have a full year to train and develop some of the best raw talent in the country all while giving them monumental experience in championship races.
Come 2020, this would be an experienced team filled with high-octane scorers who will simply be unmatched by anyone else that the NCAA has to offer...and that could give this program a national title.
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Regardless of what happens with the Huskies this fall, one thing is clear. Washington is slowly becoming the powerhouse that some fans thought they could be with Powell at the helm.
The only difference is that they are dramatically ahead of schedule.
If the Huskies decide to go all-in this fall, expect them to be on the podium (and maybe even on top of it) come November.