Despite challenges, Western makes winning marks at early season meets
Western Washington University’s track & field team has come out strong after an uncertain offseason, with standout performances from new athletes since the Viking’s first meet on March 20.
While track has always been a physically demanding sport, this year the hurdles look different.
“I would say the biggest challenge we’ve had is the unknown...not knowing we’re going to have a season,” said Pee Wee Halsel, who in his 34th year of coaching for Western. “I think we’re motivated by competition. The unknown is always the hardest in my mind.”
On March 12, athletes preparing for this year’s indoor championships were informed the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled the 2020 outdoor season.
Collegiate distance runners like Western’s Calahan Warren rarely have a true offseason since indoor track and cross country requires training and racing year round. Without competition to keep the team sharp, Warren noted it was up to teammates to support one another during workouts.
“Coaches couldn’t be there during the summer and fall,” Warren said. “A lot of it was up to us, but a lot of the guys were diligent about it.” After breaking Western’s 21-year-old 1500m record with his 3:44.82 performance at the WWU Invite on April 3, Warren earned 4th place in the current Division II national standings.
Since Warren is a graduate student in his first year studying exercise science — if not for COVID-19, his senior year at Embry Riddle would have been his final season of NCAA eligibility.
Unsure as to whether or not the NCAA would give athletes back their eligibility for the canceled outdoor season, Warren said he wanted to be involved with the team regardless of his ability to compete.
“I had actually asked the coaches like, ‘Can I just be a graduate assistant coach on the team?’” Warren said. “I didn’t think I would have the ability to run in college still. And then the conversation changed to ‘Can I run in college?’”
Graduate student and jumper/sprinter Karlie Hurley also benefited from the NCAA’s eligibility extension. Formerly a master’s student and soccer player at the now closed Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, Hurley transferred to Western to finish her degree.
“It probably couldn’t have gone better in all honesty … It’s a really good group of athletes and I feel really lucky just to have this opportunity, cause it could have gone way differently,” Hurley said.
Given the option to practice in person or on her own, Hurley said she would choose the team environment without question — even when it meant lifting outside in a hailstorm.
“There’s a shed with some extra equipment and we were lifting outside after running...some practices where it was literally hailing, you know, we finished running...repeat 200s or something and then we went and lifted in the hail,” Hurley said. Had she lacked the option to train, she wasn’t sure how she would have ridden out the rainy Washington winter.
Training over the extended offseason paid off after Hurley earned winning marks in the long and triple jump at the WWU Invitational. With a triple jump of 12.04m, Hurley stands at third in Western’s history and sixth in the long jump with a 5.65m mark.
These standout performances come from a segment of the team which coach Halsell said was likely the most impacted by COVID-19 related changes.
“If you’re [in] a technical event, you need...conditioning and all that, but you also need that technical,” Halsell said. “And I think that’s where it’s hurt us...I can’t compare my jumper to say my distance group...part of it is they need more guidance.”
Despite challenges in training for technical events, the Vikings saw strong performances on Saturday, April 10. Hurdlers Koby Okezie, Cordell Cummings and Aliyah Dawkins respectively won the men's 110m hurdles, men's 400m hurdles, and women’s 100m hurdles with times of 14.96s, 53.90s, and 14.96s respectively. Senior thrower Ben Malquist won the shot put with a 15.95m mark, while senior Lexi Perry took first in the pole vault, clearing 3.35m.
“I’m pleased, I think there’s still more good to come,” Halsell said. “I’m hoping that the inconsistencies don’t keep us down...every day is a great day for track & field at Western Washington University.”
Rowan Forsythe is a visual journalism major and junior at Western. Convinced he disliked writing until his sophomore year, Rowan has now covered topics from homelessness to school sports. You can reach him at email@example.com, and view his photography portfolio at https://rforphoto.net.