After a summer of shakeups following the dismissal and subsequent allegations against former head coach Greg Metcalf, newly appointed director of track and field operations Maurica Powell and head coach Andy Powell are preparing to embark on their first season in charge of the program. The wife-and-husband duo will lead a program for the first time, having spent their last 13 years at Oregon where they coached distance and helped the Ducks win 19 NCAA team titles (4 in cross country, 11 in indoor track, and 4 in outdoor track), coaching 40 NCAA individual champions, 37 Pac-12 champions, and 250 All-Americans.
Last season, the UW men’s team was a bit of a surprise. After earning fifth place at the Pac-12 finals, the men ran their best race in the Western Regionals, earning an automatic bid to NCAA Championships, where they placed 22nd.
The women were a little more predictable. Led by the now graduated Amy-Eloise Neale, the women finished fourth at the conference championship before receiving an at-large bid for the Nationals following a sixth place finish at the Western Regionals.
Entering this season, the Powells’ biggest challenge will be to replace the graduated runners. The men lost regular top-five finishers Andrew Gardner and Colby Gilbert, as well as Johnathan Stevens, who found himself close to scoring position a couple times last year. On the women’s side, the loss is even more pronounced as Neale, Izzi Batt-Doyle, and Anna Maxwell have all exhausted their eligibility.
However, the husband-and-wife duo do have a young core to build around. For the men, who start the year ranked no. 27 in the country. Sophomores Talon Hull and Tibebu Proctor already have experience at high levels of competition from last year. Proctor has also had a busy offseason, placing runner-up at the U.S. Junior Cross Country Championships in February and finishing 12th at the NACAC/Pan-American Cup Cross Country Championships. He wasn’t the only Husky to run at the latter, as redshirt freshman Thomas Nobbs placed third overall as he prepares for his first season of competition. The last two returning contributors for the men’s team to look out for will be senior Mahmoud Moussa , a 2017 All-Pac-12 runner, and junior Andrew Snyder, who will want to build off their strong finishes from last season.
The returning women’s runners are a little more of a mystery. Senior Emily Hamblin had a breakout year in track and will look to carry that form over to cross country, where she finished in the top-five for the Huskies every race. Juniors Kaitlyn Neal and Nikki Zielinski will also return after strong seasons, and Washington will hope sophomores Allie Schadler, Kiera Marshall, and Erica Schroeder continue to develop. Both Powells plan on being very involved and creating lasting relationships with their new athletes.
“Talent is always important, but we also need to work hard at spending time with the student-athletes,” Andy Powell said to GoHuskies.com. “That’s just something we’re both really good at and it’s what I’m looking forward to the most. … We want to make it very clear that the door is always open for anyone to come talk to us, whether it’s Maurica or I.”
The strength of the relationships the Powells form with their athletes has already been on display. Following the Powells north from Oregon, senior Tanner Anderson and juniors Mick Stanovsek, Katie Rainsberger, and Lilli Burdon will all trade in green and yellow for purple and gold.
Anderson was a two-time Washington state champion in cross country back at North Central High School in Spokane, and was regularly one of Oregon’s top finishers last season, missing an All-American spot by one place as he helped the Ducks finish sixth overall in 2017. Stanovsek is a three-time All-American in track, though he has never competed in a full cross country season.
On the women’s side, Rainsberger seems to be the heir apparent of Neale. The junior out of Colorado Springs was the Ducks’ best runner last year, earning All-American and All-Pac-12 honors and finishing first for the UO in every single race. She also helped the Ducks win the 2016 National Title when she finished fourth overall at the Nationals. Last year, Rainsberger finished top-five overall four times and was never outside the top-20. Burdon has her fair share of accomplishments as well. Another All-American, Burdon was the second finisher for the Ducks at every race last season, finishing 21st at the Nationals to help the team secure fifth place overall. Both are a big reason why the women’s team will start off as no. 18 in the country.
The last changes the Huskies will see this year is with the coaching. Bellingham native Chris Kwiatkowski will take over as the assistant distances coach while Matthew Centrowitz will be the new volunteer distance assistant. Kwiatkowski returns to the northwest after six seasons as the assistant at American University and ran under the Powells for Oregon in the late 2000’s, where he was an All-American.
Centrowitz’s role will be a little different. The reigning Olympic gold medal winner in the 1,500 meter race will take his position while still actively competing around the world. Centrowitz currently holds five USATF 1,500 meter titles, a gold medal from the 2016 Indoor World Championships, and three Pac-12 and a national title in the 1,500 meter during his time at Oregon, where he also ran under the Powells.
The first chance to see the new-look Dawgs will be on Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Dawgs kick off its season in the Sundodger Invitational, where they will compete against Creighton, Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon State, Portland State, Santa Clara, and Seattle University.
Reach reporter Andy Yamashita at email@example.com. Twitter: @ANYamashita