Anticipation grows as track and field opens indoor season

Cougars return two Pac-12 champs, two All-Americans


ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen

Wayne Phipps, director of WSU cross country/track and field, describes the challenges of transitioning from the indoor to outdoor track season.

DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen sports editor

The Cougars are preparing for indoor track and field, and will open the season this weekend with two meets.

Wayne Phipps, director of cross-country/track and field, said the team will be looking to shake off the rust and test the waters in these first two events, the University of Washington Indoor Preview and the Ed Jacoby Invitational hosted by Boise State University.

“You always got to get the first meet in at some point,” Phipps said.

Pole-vaulters, distance runners and high jumpers will take part in the UW preview, while the rest of the team will head to the invitational, Phipps said. The decision to send athletes to different meets was based on which venue benefited the athletes in each event area the best, Phipps said.

He wasn’t sure which meet he would attend, but emphasized the importance of transitioning the athletes back into the routine of the season.

“Hopefully they get back on the horse a little bit, get used to things and kind of relearn their preparation,” he said.

Phipps, 49, is entering his fourth year at WSU and signed a contract in December that will keep him in Pullman through the 2023 season.

He started coaching collegiately 22 years ago when he enrolled at University of Idaho to earn his doctoral degree. While at UI, Phipps got involved with the track program, and he has been coaching ever since.

Phipps said he had always been interested in coaching track and cross-country, but just needed all the dominoes to fall in the right place for him to get started in the profession. In 2014, Phipps decided to make the move to Pullman and take on the role he has today.

Dressed from head to toe in crimson and gray, Phipps admitted he received a little bit of criticism for going from one school on the Palouse to the other. However, he said there was more of an appreciation for what he did at Idaho.

“It was difficult to leave the student-athletes,” Phipps said, “but people understood that this was an amazing opportunity.”

He characterized his move to WSU as a “perfect scenario.”

“I could stay in an area that I loved and take a job in the most prestigious conference in the nation,” Phipps said.

As the director of track and field and cross-country, Phipps essentially oversees six sports: men’s and women’s cross-country, and men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field.

“With that title it makes it appear that I handle everybody all the time and I’m responsible for the entire program,” he said, “but I have a lot of great help.”

Phipps has five other full-time coaches on staff that help him manage all the athletes, he said, because it’s impossible for him to do it all on his own.

All the athletes that compete on the cross-country team compete on the track team. Phipps said these athletes train and compete nonstop from July 1 to the end of the NCAA championships in early June.

Phipps said the season and off-season training for athletes competing in both sports differs compared to athletes that solely participate in track.

The indoor and outdoor seasons also have their differences. Phipps said some of the events they compete in during the outdoor season, they don’t during the indoor season, and vice versa. For example, the team runs the 60-meter dash during indoor in place of the 100-meter during outdoor.

WSU has two Pac-12 champions and two NCAA All-Americans returning to the team this season. Phipps said he has high expectations for his team this season, and he has set several goals he believes they can obtain.

Phipps wants the team to finish in the top five at the Pac-12 Championships, increase the number of athletes that qualify for the NCAA Championships, and increase the number of All-Americans.

“We do have the team capable of making that next jump up at the conference level and national level,” he said.

Phipps said this weekend’s meets will help lay the foundation for the rest of the year.

“It’s the first step in the process of getting us to where we need to be by the end of the season,” he said.

The Cougars’ first home indoor meet of the season is Jan.19-20 in the Indoor Practice Facility.