By: John Cusick
As we continue to move down our Top 25 rankings, we now find the Washington Huskies settling in at the 22nd spot. The Huskies obviously made the most noise this offseason as they were able to hire coaches Andy and Maurica Powell from Oregon. Not only that, but they also added elite level athletes from Eugene (Tanner Anderson and Mick Stanovsek). Although nothing is guaranteed, the Huskies look to be in a great position to repeat as national qualifiers for the 2018 season.
Yet, before we get to that, let’s talk about their 2017 season…
It wasn’t until the Dellinger Invite that the men from Seattle would face their first true competition of the year. They were led by senior Colby Gilbert who placed 5th overall, while true freshman Talon Hull finished 13th in the meet. Right behind him was Mahmoud Moussa in 15th place, a key scorer who would have an impact later on in the season.
Unfortunately, Washington wasn’t able to hang on with the likes of BYU, Oregon, or Stanford. Although they did walk away with a win over Portland, the Pilots did not run their full A squad, leaving the Huskies without a single Kolas point.
As we transitioned to the Wisconsin Invite, there was pressure for the Huskies to perform if they wanted to secure any Kolas points. Senior Andrew Gardner was the top Husky of the day with a strong 37th place finish. However, it wouldn’t be until the 91st spot that we saw Andy Snyder cross the line. The rest of the squad did what they could as Jonathan Stevens placed 99th while Colby Gilbert was next to him in 100th overall. Freshman Tibebu Proctor would round out the Husky scoring by placing 118th.
Overall, it was just an average race for the Washington men. The expectation was that Gilbert would give them a low-stick to lean on throughout the race. Clearly, that didn’t happen. Washington would have to settle for 14th place in the team standings, one spot behind in-state rival Washington State. Luckily, the Huskies were still in a position to earn a number of Kolas points after defeating NC State, Iona, Iowa State, Boise State, and Virginia. However, their entry into NCAA’s was far from a sure-thing.
The Pac-12 Championships was where Washington began to gather some momentum. Moussa would be the lead stick for the Seattle-based squad with a huge 5th place finish. He was followed by Andrew Gardner who finished the day in 11th. The rest of the squad would place 27th (Gilbert), 29th (Hull), and 47th (Snyder). Overall, Washington had a very solid top four, but their 5th man would be the main reason why they didn’t place higher.
Still, this was a solid meet for the purple and gold. They finished ahead of Washington State after losing to them at the Wisconsin Invite and were only five points out from upsetting Oregon. It was clear that their confidence was building.
Sure enough, the West Regional Championships was the highlight of Washington’s season. Colby Gilbert emerged as the low-scoring threat that so many people knew he could be after finishing 5th overall. Not far behind him was Andrew Gardner (7th) and Andy Snyder (9th), giving the Huskies the second best 1-2-3 punch of the meet. Moussa found a spot in the top 20 (placing 18th) while freshman Tibebu Proctor closed the scoring at the 26th spot. Collectively, it was a monster performance that took the NCAA by surprise.
UW would secure the second automatic qualifying spot to Nationals and finish only two points off from a top-ranked Portland squad (who would eventually earn runner-up at NCAA’s).
As great as the West regional was, their postseason magic ran out at the national meet. Their top performer (Gardner) didn’t cross the line until 66th place with everyone else coming outside of the top 100. Gilbert dropped to 106th while Snyder settled for 118th. Moussa and Hull would place 143rd and 145th to complete Washington’s 2017 season with a 22nd place team finish.
Overall, it was a respectable season from UW, but it left something to be desired…
Despite the ups-and-downs from last fall, the Huskies will enter 2018 as a squad that is completely revamped with new coaches, new scorers, and a new direction. Oregon’s ace for the past three years, Tanner Anderson, was 41st at the national meet last year and brings a huge amount of experience to his new team. Although the loss of Gilbert and Gardner will be difficult to overcome, the consistency from Anderson gives Washington a sense of reliability that may not have been there before.
Along with Anderson, Moussa and Fred Huxham (who redshirted last year) should help the Huskies string together another appearance at the national meet. 2017 was the first time we saw Moussa become an impact scorer for this squad, especially when you look at his 5th place at the West Regional Championships. He’ll have to replicate performances like that on a more consistent basis, but it’s clear that he has a very high ceiling.
As for Huxham, this is a guy who owns personal bests of 7:56 and 13:44. It may be easy to forget about him after he was kept on the sidelines in 2017, but it’s clear that he is a ridiculous talent. His 2016 season was highlighted by a 37th place finish at the Wisconsin Invite and a 3rd place finish at the West Regional Championships. However, he also showed some inconsistency after placing 31st at PAC 12’s and 100th at the 2016 National Championships.
Andy Snyder is a key piece to consider in Washington’s equation. Much like Moussa, he’s shown plenty of promise, especially after his breakout 9th place finish at the West Regional Championships. With that said, he is still a bit of a wildcard. You’re never entirely sure what you’re going to get from him.
However, what really makes this team special is the younger guys who can compensate for any fluctuating performances that we may see from the veterans. Both Talon Hull and Tibebu Proctor found themselves in scoring positions throughout the 2017 season as true freshmen. They could have a huge impact on this squad with a full year of experience under their belt. Their untapped potential makes this a very dangerous team.
The depth and youth of this group is incredibly underrated. They’ll have a variety of scorers to choose from as they construct their lineup during the preseason. On the flip side, there are still reasonable concerns to have. Although they brought in Tanner Anderson, the loss of Gilbert and Gardner will be difficult to overcome from a front-running point of view. Additionally, the team needs to become far more stable scoring-wise if they are to become a true threat in the PAC 12 and West region.
Luckily, Andy Powell is now at the helm of this program. If anyone is going to address the blemishes within Washington’s top seven, Powell will be the perfect guy to do it. Admittedly, I don’t think we will see the full extent of Powell’s coaching abilities until the 2019 season. It’s incredibly difficult to enter a new program with new talent and have an immediate improvement (although it’s not impossible).
When you look at the talent on this roster, it’s fair to say that this could be a special year for the Huskies. If all goes well this fall, Washington could put together a historic appearance and possibly improve upon their 8th place team finish at Nationals from 2015 (which is currently the best in team history).
Get your popcorn ready, the new era of Washington cross country is about to begin...