Husky Teamwork Pulls Washington Milers Forward

With three Washington milers in the ’23 NCAA 1500 final, Nathan Green and Joe Waskom finished 1-2. (MIKE SCOTT)

WHEN THE POWELLS moved from Oregon to Washington, Maurica to take the program director job, husband Andy to become the men’s head coach, fans wondered if they would also bring along the success they had helped spark in Eugene.

Five-plus years later, it seems very clear that they have done so. Exhibit A is the stellar group of men’s milers that Andy has guided. Altogether, they have won the last two NCAA outdoor 1500 crowns, as well as the last two NCAA Indoor miles — and it’s not just one star who’s been at the front. Joe Waskom won the ’22 outdoor title, Nathan Green the ’23 race, and the last two indoor miles have gone to Luke Houser.

And while the 1-2 outdoor finish by Green and Waskom in ’23 was eye-opening, it was the Indoor finish that year that netted the most points, with Houser winning, Waskom in 4th, Green in 5th and Brian Fay in 8th for 20 points.

What magic have the Powells wrought in Seattle? Of course, there’s the recruiting. The Huskies have seen a solid flow of some of the best 4-lap talent available. Waskom (HS PR 4:03.73), Leo Daschbach (3:59.34) and Green (4:00.97) were prep All-Americas. Foreign recruits Kieran Lumb (Canada) and Brian Fay (Ireland) both came aboard with sub-4:00 credentials. Houser’s credentials were more modest, with a 4:08.17 best at 1600.

Says Waskom, “These past five years have gone by in a blink of an eye. I remember when I was a freshman, this was always the goal: to build the best middle distance and distance program in the country.”

“I think what we look for,” notes Houser, “is someone who will come in and help the team, because it is a pretty long process to get to the top of the NCAA. We look for guys who will come in and help bring up other people, and then, in turn, other people will help bring them up.”

Green adds that coming in as a frosh “wasn’t necessarily intimidating, just because Andy and the guys didn’t make it intimidating. It was very inviting and very welcoming. It was just easy to become tight-knit in the group.”

“At this point we’ve kind of realized how good we can be as a program,” says Houser. “And we set our goals higher than we did before. I think that’s really, really the biggest difference: we know how good we can be.”

It’s easy to imagine that an incoming recruit might be intimidated by going up against the Husky lineup. Powell talks about how he tries to reduce the pressure on them and give them room to grow. “I almost make it a positive. It’s just like, ‘Hey, you’re going to run unbelievable times by your senior year, but let’s just take a little moment.’” No freshmen lead intervals, for instance.

“You can just follow,” says the coach, “you can just learn from these older guys. It’s like the one time when you can almost take a breath and let everyone else help you and work around you. And that’s why we typically have had good success with freshmen.

“Some teams,” he adds, “it’s like they almost — not haze the freshmen, but they’ll be like, stay behind us and go get us breakfast. For us, it’s like we really try to make it… I don’t know. It probably helps to have a young son because I think of what I would want for him if he were on a team. We just go out of our way with freshmen.”

Then there’s the training: highly individualized by all accounts. “It is,” says Green. “It’s just very different. For example, Joe runs about like 70, 80, 90 miles a week; Luke runs about 60 to 70, maybe sometimes 80. I run like 50, because I just can’t do what they do in terms of mileage but Andy makes it so individualized that I can still compete with them really, really well.”

“Everyone talks about individualized training, and I’m sure every coach does that, but we try to just make it so that not everyone’s doing the exact same workout,” explains Powell. “Basically they might all start together, but typically they all finish in different groups or even by themselves, and we just want each person to have confidence that they did the best workout that they could. I think it just leaves a lot of people confident going into races, like, ‘OK, I can contend for this win or this national title or whatever.’”

He notes, as an example, that his three most recent national champions are all markedly different as people and athletes. “Nathan is very outgoing, and he’s pretty vocal and gets very excited for races. Like when he races, he puts everything into it. He runs very low mileage, like 40 miles a week, so for him, his workouts probably have a little bit more intensity. It’s hard to match him up with Luke and Joe all the time just because he runs a little more intense and a little less volume.

“Luke’s quiet, and, you know, he’s going to run a great 5K, but obviously he’s continuing in the 1500/mile for now. He never spoke at all his first two years. As he’s gotten older, he’s a lot more vocal. He definitely has grown into a leadership role.

“Joe’s the ultimate team guy. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone more positive than him under any circumstance… He’s got a little something special, where he can turn it up in the middle of a race and just keep it going.

“It’s funny, we did a workout probably a couple weeks before the Indoor Nationals, and they all did different things. And then I ended up having them all run a 400 separate and it’s kind of how I gauge how they’re doing. They all ran pretty hard, like a minute apart. And I don’t know if my stopwatch glitched, but two of the guys ran 51.32, and then the other guy ran 51.36.”

If there is a theme surrounding Husky practices, it goes beyond self-improvement, says Powell. “Our mantra kind of is, ‘When you come to practice, we want each athlete to try to make the people around them better, right’? If everyone’s trying to make everyone around them better, then it’s very positive. You’re trying to help the person next to you run faster, and then in return they’re probably trying to do the same thing.”

Washington’s fourth straight NCAA 1500/mile win, at the Indoor in March, was a repeat win for Luke Houser. (KEVIN MORRIS)

Another idea that keeps coming up from the veteran runners is mentorship. Obviously the coaching is key, but they’re often referring to guidance they have gotten from older athletes on the team and even alumni of Powell’s earlier teams.

Says Houser: “Some of the guys that were on the team when I first got there, and there were a few transfers, showed me how it was done at the top, and I just kind of followed them, and eventually found my way to the top.”

Green adds, “Sam Prakel is a great example of somebody who has been with Andy his entire career and he’s somebody who’s going to stay with Andy for all of his career and he is such a great example of the right things to do as a professional. He basically held my hand through a lot of the things that I do now between my mobility routines or between just going to bed on time and proper habits to be a really successful distance runner.”

Powell sees the dividends of that mentorship regularly. He says, “Thomas Diamond is going to the Stanford Invitational and wearing the uniform for the first time [he finished 3rd in his 1500 section at 3:45.52, just over a half-second from the win]. And there’s three seniors that if they had to, they’d push him across the line to help him run faster. They’re all invested in him running well.

“It’s a big piece, just having older guys that take an interest in the younger guys, that want to keep it going.”

All of which can leave Powell in an enviable fix as he’s watching the last lap of a major race and has multiple athletes to cheer for. With the Trials looming, Waskom says, “I can’t imagine it being easy for him to have 5–6 guys all trying to qualify for 3 spots.”

Powell describes how for last year’s USATF Championships, it seemed like “the majority of the field was guys I was working with or coaching. I didn’t even know what to do. Johnny Gregorek was staying at my house, Sam Prakel lives here, and then I had my three Washington guys and I was giving them all different strategies.

“That is a tough one because, you almost can’t win, right? But that’s the reason they also got there, I guess. They all helped each other, made each other better, so I don’t know.”

Waskom notes, “Last year at Indoor Nationals, we had 6 guys all warming up together for the prelim. I mean, I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. And it’s so funny, everyone else is staring at you, and obviously there’s a little bit of pressure just being a part of the program, but at the end of the day, it’s all racing and you’re with your teammates. It really is just doing what you’re doing at practice every day and that’s just having fun.

“We’re all competitive with each other when the gun goes off, but you cross the finishline and you go back to being friends and you’re super happy for your friends, no matter the result.”

Adds Houser: “It’s cool in that sense where no one really has an inflated ego or anything like that. At the end of the day, we’re all competitors, so, even if it were two of us competing against each other, we’re still going to leave it all out there. We’re going to go as hard as we can.”

“We’re all going to go out there and go for it,” says Green, “but if I don’t make the Olympic team but one of my best friends does I’m not going to be mad. If Joe beats me for that third spot or Luke beats me for the third spot and I’m sitting in 4th, I’m just going to be happy for them. Of course, I’ll be disappointed with the result. I’ll wish we would have gotten 1-2-3 but they’re my best friends and I’d do anything for them. If that means that they finish before me in the final then I’m OK with that.”

Green adds that the essential component to the success of the milers has been the coaching of Powell and assistant Chris Kwiatkowski. “They are just two of the most humble, most hardworking, amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I can’t say enough good things about them and how well they’ve treated me and the rest of the team.”

Waskom says there’s no secret to Husky success. “When I came in, I’d run 4:03, I wasn’t anywhere close to where I am now and I had great mentors that really helped me just enjoy every day. And I think that’s really what it’s about. It’s staying the course. You got to put in the hard work. You got to have fun with it. You build on training and build on training and eventually you stack up enough weeks and you have the confidence to go compete with anyone in the NCAA. And the times come as you compete and work hard.”

Concludes Houser: “I really think the success of this team just comes down to us just being great friends, having fun every day at practice, working hard with a smile on our face. That’s really just what it all boils down to for us.”

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