The Lake Stevens High School graduate is back at the NCAA cross country championships, but this time he doesn't have his University of Washington teammates with him.
Bywater, a fifth-year senior who was part of the 2009 UW team that went to nationals, qualified as an individual and is currently in Louisville, Ky., ready to compete in today's NCAA championships.
"It's much different," he said via telephone from Louisville two days ago. "It's weird. Just getting on the bus is different. I've never had a hotel room to myself before. I feel kind of lonely."
While Bywater does have head coach Greg Metcalf and the members of the seventh-ranked UW women's team to keep him company, it certainly has been a different experience this time around.
He took a morning run Thursday alone, to the sounds of the Ohio River.
"That was different," said Bywater, who earned an individual bid to the NCAA championships after turning in one of the top four times from non-qualifying teams at last week's West Regional in Seattle. "It just kind of feels like something's missing. I don't listen to music when I run, so I was just kind of out there running."
He has no teammates to help push him on race day, and he won't be looking over his shoulder for his friends when it's over.
When Bywater runs the final cross country race of his collegiate career, it will be all about him. For once.
"Tangibly, I'd really like to get into the top 40," he said of his goals for today's 10-kilometer race. "If I'm in the top 40, there's no way I'll be disappointed. And even if I'm in the top 50 or 60 -- if I feel like I put out my max effort -- I'm going to be happy."
And come Monday, when he won't have to train for an upcoming race?
"I think I'm going to really switch gears to studying and closing out the quarter on a really good note," said Bywater, a math major who plans to graduate after the winter quarter. "I'll use my free time to go to extra study groups and get help from my professors.
"I'll wake up Monday, ready to hammer the books."
Husky women looking for another strong finish
After falling from their No. 1 preseason ranking and finishing fourth at the Pacific-12 Conference championships, the seventh-ranked UW women's team has one last chance today to prove just how good it is.
Star junior Katie Flood, who took seventh at last year's nationals, is back, while junior Megan Goethals, who battled a leg injury for most of the season, is back and ready to improve on last year's 18th-place finish.
Five of UW's top seven runners from last year's NCAA runner-up are back.
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