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Oregon Track & Field Squads Gear Up for a Run at the National Championship
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
June 7, 2010

Andrew Wheating - University of Oregon
EUGENE - The University of Oregon's track and field teams will have home field advantage at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene on June 9-12. Whether that translates into team championship for either the men or the women is uncertain, but the UO program has been focused for a year, if not longer, on this chance to win a NCAA team title at home.

While both the UO men's and women's squads are widely considered to be serious contenders for the team titles, it could take near-flawless performances to pull it off. In 2009 the Oregon men's team fell just short of winning the NCAA title, losing to Texas A&M by just two points, while the women's team also made a strong run at the title but ended up second to Texas A&M, as well.

Texas A&M will be tough again. Coach Pat Henry has a deep and talented pool of sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers who will try to counter Oregon's strength in the distances and the multi-events.

The women's team race, in particular, looks to be a very tight, two-team battle between the Aggies and the Ducks. The latest formchart, prepared for Track & Field News, has Texas A&M winning by one point over Oregon, and no other team even close.

The two favorites won't go head-to-head in very many events, but are poised to do so in the 400 meters, the long jump, and both relays. If the meet is as close as predicted, the outcome of the 4 x 400 relay on Saturday will decide the championship. Oregon's relay is seeded first nationally, based on their school-record 3:30.23 at the Regional Meet, but Texas A&M has been there before and can call on their talented quarter-miler Jessica Beard for the anchor leg.

Jamesha Youngblood - University of Oregon

Florida's powerful men's team, regarded by many experts as the odds-on favorites in Eugene, is loaded with speed, and figures to score big in the sprints, jumps and both relays. The Gators will match up with Texas A&M in those events, and, if there is a clear winner, that team will likely claim the championship. However, if the Aggies and Gators slip some, or neutralize each other, the Oregon men are positioned to take advantage.

While the Ducks have only six or seven events where they are figured to score, they qualified three entries in the 800 and 1500 meter races, and two in the 5000, decathlon, long jump and javelin. With Ashton Eaton and Andrew Wheating leading the charge, Oregon could pile up points in a hurry.

Wheating is favored in the 800 and Eaton should easily win the decathlon, but the Oregon men's chance at a title will likely come down to how their other athletes perform. Cyrus Hostetler and Alex Wolff are capable of scoring big points in the javelin. Matthew Centrowitz probably needs to place in the top three in the 1500, and the Ducks need points from Elijah Greer (800), A.J. Acosta (1500), Jordan McNamara and Michael Maag (5000).

It has been a steady upward climb for the Oregon program since Vin Lananna was hired as Director of Track & Field and Associate Athletic Director in 2005.

Since 2006, Oregon has won four straight men's Pac-10 team titles in track and field, along with two NCAA cross country championships and an NCAA indoor track title. Not to be outdone, the Duck women have now won two consecutive Pac-10 crowns, and this year stormed to a decisive win at the NCAA Indoor Meet.

Lananna would like nothing better than to cap his team's ascent by winning an NCAA team title, or two, in front of the home fans in Eugene this week. Oregon's last NCAA outdoor track and field titles were won in 1984 by the men and 1985 by the women.



ATHLETE TO WATCH: Florida's Jeff Demps electrified the fans at Hayward Field two years ago at the Olympic Trials, when he set the American Junior Record of 10.01 in the 100 meters. Coming off a stellar football season and a NCAA Indoor Championship in the 60, he's back in Eugene as one of the favorites in the 100 and a key to the Gators' team title hopes.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Oregon will not score here.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Sam Chelanga of Liberty University will try to duplicate Galen Rupp's feat of a year ago and win both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. The junior from Kenya will be hard to beat. He recently set the collegiate record of 27:08.39 in the 10k and has the top seed times in both events.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: UO senior Andrew Wheating will attempt a double of his own in the 800 and 1,500 meters. It looks possible, but to do it, he will have to run four tough races in four days against fresher opponents, as none of his major rivals are doubling. In any case, the Duck men need to score big in the distance races to challenge for the title.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Christian Taylor of Florida comes in to the meet as the favorite in the triple jump and a top contender in the long jump. He will go head-to-head with Texas A&M's Tyron Stewart and Zuheir Sharif in the triple, and the outcome could help decide the team championship race.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Multi-event star Ashton Eaton will attempt to come back in the long jump on Saturday after competing in the decathlon's ten grueling events on Thursday and Friday. His mark of 26'-4.5" at the regional meet was not only a PR by six inches, but placed Eaton second among the 24 jumpers who qualified for nationals.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Arizona State's Ryan Whiting currently ranks second in the world in the shot put at 71-7.5 and has had recorded marks of 70' or more at an amazing seven meets this season. He leads his competitors by nearly eight feet in the shot, but the discus throw should be much more competitive. Whiting is in the mix, but freshmen Julian Wruck of Texas Tech and Mason Finley of Kansas had the top two marks at the Regional Meets.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Senior Cyrus Hostetler will carry a share of the Ducks' team hopes in the javelin, where he will be up against Texas A&M freshman Sam Humphreys. Hostetler, who has the leading NCAA mark of 256'-6," has thrown in only three meets this spring, hoping to keep his arm fresh for the NCAAs. Last year his best throw came in his first meet. Junior Alex Wolff could also score in this event for the Ducks.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: How fitting it is that the incomparable Ashton Eaton, UO senior, gets to finish out his collegiate career before the home crowd at Hayward Field, and try to help the Ducks get that elusive outdoor title. Eaton has scored over 8,000 points in eight consecutive decathlons over the past two years, establishing himself as one of the best collegiate decathletes ever. The world record holder in the indoor heptathlon, Eaton has a season PR of 8,310, more than 600 points better than the second-ranked athlete, Missouri's Nick Adcock.


ATHLETES TO WATCH: Texas A&M's sprint corps looks frighteningly dominant. Porscha Lucas and Jeneba Tarmoh have the top two times in the 200 meters and Aggie sprinters have three of the top six times in the 100 meters. Jessica Beard will be tough to beat in the 400, and their 4x1 relay team had the top qualifying time by a full second. They lost hurdler Natasha Ruddock to an injury at the Regional, but the Aggies are so strong and deep it may not even matter.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Senior Keshia Baker has steadily improved over the past three years and has the nation's top time in the 400 meters, 50.76. The 400 meter field is loaded, but Baker should be tough at home. She also runs on both relays, and anchored the Duck women to a school record - and nation leading time - of 3:30.23 in the 4x400 relay at the West Regional.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Lisa Koll of Iowa State broke through in March when she set a new collegiate record of 31:18.07 in the 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational, becoming the sixth-fastest American women ever in that event. Koll will go for the double in Eugene, and that sets up a great matchup with defending NCAA champion Angela Bizzari of Illinois in the 5,000.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Senior Nicole Blood will also go for a 5-10K double in an effort to put her team over the top. Blood has only run two 10Ks on the track, but is a tough-as-nails competitor, and will have a day of rest between the two races. She doesn't have to win, but the Ducks need big points from Blood and her teammates in the distance races.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Indiana State senior Kylie Hutson was the odds-on pick to win the women's pole vault, despite battling injuries this outdoor season. Then, on May 8, while attempting a new collegiate record of 15'-1.5," Hutson suffered a deep gash in her hand when her pole shattered. If Hutson is hampered by the injury, this could be a wide-open competition, possibly opening the door for Oregon's Melissa Gergel.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Versatile Jamesha Youngblood qualified in the long and triple jumps, and runs on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays for the Ducks. She will be looking to build on her strong performance at last year's NCAA meet when she placed third in the long jump.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: Florida's Mariam Kevkhishvilli, a native of Tbilisi, Georgia, is a three-time NCAA champion with a personal best (60'-6.75") that is more than four feet better than her competition. Kevkhishvilli competed for Georgia at the 2004 Olympics as an 18 year-old.

TOP DUCK CONTENDER: Oregon will not score here.


ATHLETE TO WATCH: UO Junior Brianne Theisen will look to win this event and add to her impressive resume - defending NCAA heptathlon champion and 2010 indoor pentathlon champion, as well as competing for Canada in the heptathlon at the 2009 World Championships. Unfortunately for the Ducks, the meet schedule won't permit Theisen to give it a go in the high jump or 100 hurdles where she might also score points.



1. Florida
2. Texas A&M
3. Oregon



1. Texas A&M
2. Oregon
3. LSU
Matthew Centrowitz - University of Oregon
Vernell Warren - University of Oregon

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