There may be no Western Washington University men’s track and field athlete who did more to help the Vikings to a fourth straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference title this season, and yet Brett Watson is staying home while eight other Vikings compete at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships from May 21-23 in Allendale, Mich.
At the GNAC Championship meet, Watson won the high jump for the third consecutive season, the long jump for the first time, and was part of the winning 4x100 relay team. Additionally, he helped the 4x400 relay team hold off University of Alaska-Anchorage to take the title by two points.
“It’s disappointing for him, myself, and all the coaching staff because he is quite an athlete and has been for all four years, and he’s been a great leader the last few years,” WWU coach Pee Wee Halsell said in a phone interview of Watson not being selected for the National Championships.
Watson, a senior from Ferndale, has been with WWU through each of the four GNAC titles it won.
“Freshman year we hadn’t won it in I don’t know how long,” Watson said in a phone interview. “We were coming into this one down, it was projected for us to lose by 40-45 points. It came down to that 4x400 and we were able to pull it out by a few points.”
Watson praised the high standards of Division II, even though it didn’t help him this year.
“I didn’t make it in long jump by a couple inches, and by about 2 in the high jump,” he said. “In D-II it’s getting competitive. The marks keep getting better, and that’s cool because if you look at the athletes, there are some really superior athletes.”
In winning the long jump at the GNAC Championship, Watson broke a WWU record that was 49 years old. His mark of 24 feet, 1.75 inches ensures that his legacy will be remembered at WWU, even if he can’t compete at the National Championship meet.
“The long jump outdoor record will stick with me because that will go in the hallway in Carver (Gymnasium),” Watson said. “People will be able to see me on the wall and see how I contributed.”
The former Golden Eagle started doing track in eighth grade. In a town where football is king, Watson still thought of track as his primary sport, he said. He took fifth in the high jump his sophomore year in high school, and third his junior and senior years at the Class 3A State Championships.
WWU recruited him as a high jumper, but didn’t get started until a little late in the process, Halsell said.
“He hadn’t really long jumped, and maybe he didn’t the first couple of years here,” he added. “(Watson) had good speed and hop, so it was natural for him to do the long jump. Two years ago, I’m not sure I would have thought he could have broken that record.”
Aside from his outdoor long jump record, Watson holds indoor records in the high jump (6-10.25) and long jump (23-07.25). But he leaves more of an impression than just in the record books.
“The main things I’ll remember about him are the fierceness and determination he shows, not just in competition, but in workouts, too,” Halsell said. “He’s fun, but very serious, too. Just what you look for in an athlete. He takes it serious, but he can laugh, too.”
The eight Vikings competing at outdoor nationals will be seniors Slater Hirst (javelin), Ryan Macdonald (discus), Haley O’Connor (1,500) and Katelyn Steen (3,000 steeplechase and 5,000), and juniors Alex Donigian (100), John Haskin (javelin), Travis Milbrandt (110 hurdles) and Katie Reichert (javelin).
Reichert makes her third appearance at the National Championship, while Donigian, Haskin, Hirst and Steen make their second.
Steen ranks second nationally in steeplechase, Reichert is third nationally in javelin and Donigian has the third best 100 time in the nation.