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By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
June 12, 2014

University of Oregon's Dakotah Keys
EUGENE, OR - The University of Oregon men kept the momentum going on day two at the NCAA Track & Field Championships, building speed as they head toward a possible team title.

On a day when qualifying for finals was the main task, the Duck men more than held their own. They qualified five athletes for finals, possibly along with their 4 x 400 relay, and picked up 11 critical team points from Dakotah Keys in the decathlon and Greg Skipper in the hammer final. The Ducks lost just one athlete who was expected to advance to finals, when Jonathan Cabral fell to the track with an apparent knee injury in the 110 hurdles.

Meanwhile, the Oregon women, who struggled through a very difficult day on Wednesday, tried to claw back into the team race with some outstanding performances on Thursday. Laura Bobek, who ranked just 26th nationally in the discus coming in to the NCAA meet, pulled a shocker when she placed third and set a new school record in the process.

Jenna Prandini continued her strong showing by breezing through to the finals of the 200 meters on Saturday, and the women’s 4 x 400 also made it safely through to the finals. Senior Sarah Penney was a bonus for the Ducks, as she ran a near PR time to make it to the 1500 meter finals.

Mulit-event standout Dakotah Keys, a Sweet Home High School grad, used strong performances in the last two events of the decathlon to move from seventh place to third, adding six points to the Oregon team total.

Keys said that he was following the fortunes of his Oregon teammates throughout the grueling two-day decathlon.

“I’m really keyed in on what’s going on because we’re out there so long,” Keys said. “In my mind it was just the team, the team, the team. We had a team meeting on both nights and they were saying to me ‘compete.’ That’s what I wanted to do, just come out and compete as hard as I could over the two days. Go after every point I could. I’m really, really happy.”

University of Oregon's Greg Skipper

Former Oregon City star Greg Skipper got the ball rolling for the Ducks on Thursday with a good start in the hammer throw. Skipper threw 228-01 on his first throw to assure himself a spot in the finals, and then he improved on that on his fifth attempt. His 229-7 held up for fourth in a competition that featured some excellent marks and tight finish won by Matthias Tayala of Kent State on his last throw.

“I felt good and things were clicking,” Skipper said. “(My) legs were there, everything was there. It was just an incredible competition. You guys saw the results – that’s four meters above where it was last year and the top five were really close.”

Skipper said he was looking forward to a couple days off, but he was happy to be able to contribute to the team’s success here.

“I was a little burned out coming into this meet but the team needed me and that’s who I did it for. . . I scrapped for some points for the team . . . If everyone keeps executing and taking care of business, we’ll be fine.”

Devon Allen took care of business in the 110 hurdles. The freshman dual-sport star won his heat in 13.53, which was the third-fastest time in the semifinal heats. Allen then returned to the track for the 4 x 400 relay qualifying, and helped Oregon to a second-place finish and an apparent spot in Saturday’s final.

That result was under protest at the end of the meet on Thursday night. According to an NCAA spokesman, Arizona State, which finished third in the same heat as Oregon, protested the results, claiming there was a lane violation by Oregon. The protest was under review at press deadline and a decision was not expected until Thursday.

Oregon is projected to place seventh in the 4 x 400, and the team points in that event, which is the final event of the meet, could be crucial in the race for the team championship.

University of Oregon's Arthur Delaney

Oregon did qualify two unexpected athletes for the finals – Sam Prakel in the 1500 meters and Arthur Delaney in the 200.

Prakel looked like he was boxed in on the inside of lane one in his heat as the lead pack came off the last turn. Somehow he found a way to slip out of the box and into the finals.

“I knew if the smallest space opened up (in the homestretch) I could squeeze through it and that’s what I did,” Prakel said.

Running in the same semi was teammate Mac Fleet, who won the NCAA 1500 meters last year on this track. Prakel said that Fleet’s presence in the race helped him qualify.

“We’ve been working together for this and this has been a goal since the beginning of the season,” Prakel said. “Having (Fleet) there to train with me and having him there in the race helped a lot since I could just imagine it as a workout.”

University of Oregon's Sam Prakel

Prakel said that as the season went on and he experienced success like placing at Pac-12 it made him realize that making the finals here was a possibility. Fleet said Prakel is a special athlete, and is glad to see him gaining confidence.

“He’s a blue chipper that came out of high school,” Fleet said. “I thought he would be close to my school record in indoor, he’s that kind of athlete.

“For him to be an auto qualifier finishing second (in the semis) that’s incredible . . . I’m done after this meet (as a college athlete) so I’m trying to pass on everything I can I can to him.”

Fleet will face off with Lawi Lalang in the 1500 finals on Saturday, the day after Lalang and Oreong's 10000 meter champion Edward Cheserek go head-to-head in the 5000 meters.

"Let the 5K runners run," Fleet said, hoping that the race will take something out of Lalang in the 1500.

Bobek, a redshirt senior from Astoria High School, was ecstatic after her breakthrough performance.

“I was really excited and sad at the same time since this is my last year but I’d like to go out this way. I’m happy to get the points for the team,” Bobek said with a big smile.

“I’ve been practicing really well and I just knew I could come out here and throw 180, 183 so I’m just happy to come out and do that.”

Bobek said that her goal as a freshman at Oregon was to break the school record in the discus in her first year. Not only did that not happen, but she struggled with injuries, had surgery, and had difficulty getting back to the marks she put up in high school.

She finally got the school record, set by Queena Beasley in 1985, on her last throw of the competition, her last throw of her collegiate career. Bobek’s throw of 184-08 beat Beasley’s mark by nearly four feet.

“It was great,” Bobek said. “I can’t even describe my feelings.”


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