by Erin Huggins
Coach Stuart Chaffee and the Larson brothers
Located four and half hours north of Monmouth, Lake Stevens, Wash. is not exactly next door. However, after graduating from Lake Stevens High School, three brothers, Kyle, Drew and Scott Larson, decided Western Oregon was the perfect place to study and run. First Kyle, then Drew, and later Scott moved south to compete on the WOU track and field team. In fact, they were completing a cycle started years before by the mid-distance coach at their high school, WOU alum Stuart Chaffee (’03, B.A. English).
Western’s NCAA Division II status gives the school a unique opportunity to balance academics and athletics. But when competing with big name schools and even bigger scholarship budgets, word-of-mouth is crucial to the recruiting process.
“I wouldn’t have gone to WOU if it weren’t for Stuart. Nobody really knows about Western Oregon University here in Washington,” said Kyle Larson (’12, B.A. in Spanish and English literature), who ran the 800m and 1500m for the Wolves.
When Kyle paired down his college choices to two—both track related—WOU won. “It just seemed like the only viable option,” he said. Concerning track, Kyle “was able to get a lot of face time with coaches, which was very valuable…outside of the athletics at WOU, in the real world, so to speak.”
As far as academics, he also enjoyed his time in Monmouth: “Education-wise, I was thrilled. I figured out what I wanted to do.”
And he absolutely flourished under the coaches. Kyle said he loved to work out in high school, but he “never understood that [he] could do something in track and field until college.” Something being a conference championship in the 800m, that is.
In fact, Kyle’s success on the track led his brother Drew to Monmouth, too. “I came down because my older brother ran for Western Oregon. He really liked the coach,” Drew said. “If you know the person you’re talking to did well with that coach, you have a good feeling about it. I probably wouldn’t have come if my brother hadn’t had a good experience with [Track and Field Head Coach Mike] Johnson. It comes to be one of those things where because of Stuart and Kyle knowing who Johnson was, it influenced me.”
Coach Josh Holloway and Emmi Collier
Emmi Collier, a standout freshman thrower (shot put, weight, hammer, discus) for the Wolves during the 2012-2013 season, has a similar story. She discovered WOU while competing at the state track meet during her time at Warrenton High School. She also knew her coach, Josh Hollaway (’06, B.S. physical education), was a WOU alum.
“He wasn’t like pushing me towards any certain college, but he always talked well of Western. He went there and enjoyed his experience,” Collier said. “He wanted to look out for the best for what I wanted to do. He was excited when I told him I was going there.”
Thinking about the future, Collier said she would follow Hollaway’s example when working with her own track and field team: “I would probably do what my coach did—not necessarily pressure my athletes, but encourage them to check [WOU] out.”
For Collier, the cycle of former Wolves training future Wolves is a good thing. “It’s probably going to repeat itself,” she said. “If [the high school coaches] had a good time [in college], their athletes are going to want to know where they went.”
From high school to college, Collier said the people running the workouts make a difference: “The coaches have a big influence on me personally. If they’re having a good time, you’re having a good time, too.”
In fact, the workouts themselves make a difference. Hollaway said he drew heavily from his college workouts—and the work ethic instilled by WOU coaches—when designing his own high school practices. Last spring, he came back to Western to watch Collier throw at the John Knight Twilight meet. “[Collier] thanked me. She said, ‘I was really prepared for college practices. We do a lot of the same things we did in high school,’” he said.
Whether from Lake Stevens or Warrenton, small town athletes have big opportunities at WOU, according to Hollaway, who has been volunteer coaching at Warrenton High School for six years. “I think Western’s a really good fit for kids that are from small towns, small schools,” he said. “You meet new people all the time. I had a great time at Western. I loved it there,” Hollaway said. “If we ever have standout athletes, Western’s always the first place I look.
“If you’re competing in track at the collegiate level, you’ve been pretty successful throughout your career. It’s important to give kids that same experience, to give back to the community.”
Chaffee, starting his eighth season coaching at Lake Stevens, wants his high school athletes to know their options for collegiate sports, especially at WOU. “Western’s off their radar. A lot of kids, when they’re getting into their junior and senior years, they’re looking at local schools [in western Washington]. With the undergraduate exchange program, Western Oregon is really a great option,” he said. “I had a fantastic experience down there. I encourage kids to think about it and check it out. Once they do, they end up really liking it.”
For all Wolves—past and present—relationships on and off the track, with coaches and with peers, cap their track and field experience. “I’m still in really close contact with my college teammates,” Chaffee said. “Three of five of my groomsmen were on the track team with me. My closest friends were guys that I ran in college with.”
Hollaway, too, said, “a lot of the friends that I still keep in touch with I met on the track team. I really enjoyed every moment, especially the bus trips. I think just the friendships I gained out of competing in track is most memorable for me.”
While many memories involve people, they also focus on athletic achievements — winning conference championships, competing at nationals, running against Olympic gold medalists. After all, as Drew Larson said, “Success is fun.”
WOU offers plenty of both.