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By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
June 11, 2014

University of Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek
Eugene, OR – Four for four. NCAA Cross Country - check. NCAA Indoor 3000 and 5000 – check and check. NCAA Outdoor 10000 meters - check. After winning the men’s 10K race with a blazing last lap at the NCAA Track & Field Championships at Historic Hayward Field, Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek is now a perfect four for four in NCAA Championship races in his first year of college. No previous Oregon star came close to that achievement. Not former marathon record holder Alberto Salazar. Not Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp. Not even the incomparable Steve Prefontaine.

The men’s 10,000 concluded an eventful first day of the championships before a Hayward crowd of 9,165. Cheserek came into the race as the favorite, but an experienced group of distance runners – eight of the top ten in the race were seniors – were ready to put him to the test.

Texas Tech senior Kennedy Kithuka, Cheserek, Shadrack Kipchirchir of Oklahoma State, Mohammed Ahmed of Wisconsin, and Parker Stinson of Oregon broke away from the pack in the first mile of the race. Stinson couldn’t sustain the pace, and dropped back to the chase pack, but the remaining quartet stayed together until nearly the last lap.

Kithuka’s efforts to push the pace and take the sting out of Cheserek’s kick were for naught. Cheserek said he knew he had the race won when Kithuka told him to “go” with three laps remaining. Cheserek declined the offer, choosing to relax behind Kithuka. With 250 meters left, Cheserek finally bolted past his rivals. Only Kipchirchir was able to stay close, but Cheserek’s stunning last lap of 53.4 seconds left no doubt. Everyone else was running for second.

“I thought no, just stay here and relax for longer,” the Kenyan-born Cheserek said about Kithuka’s offer. “With 400 meters to go I wanted to make my move.”

Cheserek’s winning time was 28:30.18, and the race held more good news for the Ducks. UO senior Trevor Dunbar successfully “won” the race among the chase pack, finishing fifth in 28:53.81, and Stinson held on for eighth. Bolstered by the 15 points they gained from the 10000, the Duck men enhanced their chances of winning their first outdoor title in 30 years. However, the Oregon women suffered from mostly self-inflicted wounds that seemingly took them out of the team title race as the meet was just getting started. Jenna Prandini, though, was a bright spot for Oregon, winning her first NCAA championship by long jumping 21-06 and qualifying easily for the 100 meter final on Friday.

University of Oregon senior Laura Roesler

Duck senior Laura Roesler also breezed through the 800 meter semifinals with a comfortable-looking 2:02.60, the fastest-time of the day. Senior teammate Phyllis Francis was nipped for second place at the line in her 400 heat, but she advanced on time – 51.69 – for Friday’s 400 final. Oregon Head Coach Robert Johnson termed it a “good day for the men, and ok day for the women,” but that description seemed more like damage control than an accurate assessment of a roller coaster first day.

Oregon junior Jillian Weir was first up in the hammer and she came through with a big throw of 209-07 on her third and final attempt in prelims to move from tenth into fifth, and make the finals. Weir, like most of her competitors, was unable to improve in finals and ended up in sixth. Her three team points were just about what was projected.

The first event on the track was the semifinals of the 4 x 100 relay. Oregon came in with the third best time in the event, but the Ducks have been playing mix and match in the short relay due to injuries, losing both Jasmine Todd and Marybeth Sant in the last few weeks. Freshman hurdler Sasha Wallace was plugged in as the replacement for Sant as the first leg, but she and second leg Francis were unable to even get close to completing the first baton exchange.

Then sophomore Annie Leblanc, projected to finish as high as third in the 800 finals, failed to qualify for the final. She was second coming down the homestretch, but couldn’t hold it, and slipped to a non-qualifying third. “I was really, really disappointed,” Leblanc said. “There’s no excuse for why I got tired in the last couple meters and got caught.

“It’s a championship, anything can happen . . . I just have to put it behind and move on. Or use it as motivation because it is not what I am capable of.”

Prandini did what she could to reverse the tide. The versatile sophomore couldn’t do anything but watch as her 4x1 teammates had their baton issue, but the rest of Prandini’s day went as well as she could have hoped for.

After winning her 100 meter qualifying heat in a personal best 11.11, Prandini went back to the long jump and took a slight lead with her third jump. Upset with a foul on her fourth attempt, Prandini moved her mark back a half of foot and put the competition away on her fifth jump, blasting out to a lifetime best of 21-06.

“It’s incredible,” Prandini said. “It was exactly what I wanted to do and I came out here and did it.”

There was redemption for Duck senior Mike Berry after he failed to qualify for the 400 finals last year. Berry won his heat in 45.41 to automatically qualify for Friday’s final. Asked what his mindset was coming in to the race, Berry said, “Win the day. It’s a slogan around here at Oregon. Win the day and take one day at a time. . . I just wanted to use last year as a motivating experience for myself and not take anything for granted. Come out and compete and definitely win the heat. Berry has a big load here. He will run a 400 every day, either a qualifying heat in 400 and 4x4 relay, as well as finals in both events. UO decathletes Dakota Keys and Mitch Modin put together solid first days. Keys is seventh with 4071 points, with Modin just behind with 4045. Coach Johnson said that Modin was 53 points ahead of his personal record pace, and Keys was just slightly behind his best first day. Keys, especially is a strong second day performer in the decathlon.

Notes . . . Ryan Crouser, the former Oregon high school champion from Barlow High School, won defended his title in the shot put winning at 69-3 1/2. Afterward he was on crutches, and said he jammed his toe on the toe board on his last attempt. Headed for x-rays, Crouser said it was the same foot he broke while in high school . . . the Florida men, figured to be Oregon’s main rival for the team title suffered two setbacks on Wednesday. Stipe Zunic placed sixth in the shot, lower than he was projected, and 400 meter standout Arman Hall failed to qualify for the 400 final.


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