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Wins By Fleet, Crouser and Allen Carry Ducks to NCAA Championship
By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
June 14, 2014

University of Oregon's Mac Fleet

Eugene, OR – Timely wins by Mac Fleet, Sam Crouser and Devon Allen helped the Oregon men hold off a hard-charging Florida team, and propelled the Ducks on Saturday to their first NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship since 1984. Oregon’s final point total of 88 gave them an 18-point margin of victory over defending co-champions Florida and their sixth overall men’s outdoor title.

Behind another strong performance from Jenna Prandini, the Oregon women had a solid day, but never posed a strong threat to Texas A&M, which won its fifth outdoor crown since 2009. Oregon finished third in the women’s race with 59 points, behind Texas with 66 and Texas A&M with 75.

The Oregon men were in a strong position coming in to Saturday’s final events at Historic Hayward Field, but, even as the crowd of 11,344 was still filing into the stadium, the Gators made it clear they weren’t going down without a fight.

Florida’s Marquis Dendy, who won the long jump on Thursday, leapt to a nearly two-foot victory in the triple jump. Then the Florida 4 x 100 relay came from behind on the last leg to win, giving the Gators 20 quick points. Suddenly, Oregon’s lead didn’t look so secure.

Mac Fleet was first up for the Ducks. The defending 1500 meter national champion was up against Arizona’s Lawi Lalang in the 1500. Lalang, an eight-time national champion in distance races, was coming off a big win over Oregon’s Edward Cheserek in the 5000 on Friday evening and wanted to be the first to pull off the 1500 – 5000 double at the NCAA meet.

Lalang shot into the lead from the gun, and set a quick pace. Fleet settled in right behind him and stayed there, a model of patience for three laps. Coming off the last curve, with the Hayward crowd in full roar, Fleet moved just a half-stride ahead of Lalang and held the lead until the line. His winning time of 3:39.09 was just four one-hundredths ahead of Lalang.

“With 120 (meters) to go, I certainly felt him. We bumped a little bit and that’s what got me to go,” Fleet said. “Coming down the last hundred meters I got a half-stride and then had a little misstep. I could see Lawi’s hands right here and I knew he was there the entire way. Big lean, big twist at the end. Awesome feeling.”

Florida sprinter Dedrick Dukes answered for the Gators, winning the 200 meters in a slightly wind-aided time of 19.91. Oregon countered with a seventh-place finish in the 200 by Arthur Delaney, and then a sixth-place finish in the 3000 meter steeplechase by Tanguy Pepiot. Those five points edged the Ducks closer to clinching the meet, but it would take two more dramatic victories to salt it away.

University of Oregon's Sam Crouser

Oregon junior Sam Crouser was still in second place to Kentucky’s Raymond Dykstra in the javelin with just one throw left for each of the two. Crouser knew what he had to do.

“You just have to go after it and attack and use the home crowd to your advantage and that’s what happened,” Crouser said.

As the crowd roared its support, Crouser’s final throw sailed 252-7, 11 inches past Dykstra’s best. Crouser then watched as his rival’s last throw fell far short of his winning mark.

“It’s a dream come true,” the Gresham High School grad said of winning first NCAA championship, and helping the Ducks get the team title.

University of Oregon's Devon Allen

Just moments after Crouser’s clutch throw, Oregon freshman Devon Allen settled into the blocks for the start of the 110 meter hurdles. Allen, who is a probable starter at wide receiver for the Ducks this fall, had been doing double duty with football and track practice most of the spring. When spring football ended last month, he was able to concentrate solely on track, and his hurdle time started dropping dramatically, thrusting him into the national spotlight.

Though he was facing an outstanding field in the hurdles, Allen’s recent performances had been so impressive he was projected to finish as high as third in the race. The question was, though, how would he respond to the pressure and the quality of the competition in an NCAA championship race. Among his much more-experienced competitors were defending national champion Wayne Davis of Texas A&M and Pac-12 champion Aleec Harris of USC.

Allen got off to a clean start and started to gain on the leaders midway through the race. As they cleared the last hurdle, Allen appeared to be just behind Harris and Davis. But his burst from the last hurdle to the finish gave Allen the stunning win in 13.16, just ahead of Harris at 13.18 and Davis at 13.24. Allen’s time was good for a new NCAA meet record, and made him the second-fastest collegian hurdler.

It also clinched the meet for Ducks.

“I knew that we didn’t have a 4 x 4 team today with the protest and I just tried to make sure to do what I can,” Allen said.

His performance here capped off an amazing freshman year for the freshman from Arizona. Though he red-shirted the football season, he still practiced and trained for football, with track relegated to part-time pursuit. He said his rapid improvement was due to “a lot of training” and good coaching.

“I was just doing so much (training) early in the year that my body was kind of tired. I had to lose about 20 pounds from football season to be able to run efficiently. Coach (Jamie) Cook is an amazing coach and he helped me get to where I needed to be.”

Allen headed off any potential controversy by saying football was still his main priority, though he is considering running the hurdles at the US Track & Field Championships in two weeks.

After the meet, UO Head Coach Robert Johnson spoke to the media about the team win while drying himself off after a celebratory dunking by his squad in the steeplechase pit.

“It’s crazy for us to score 88 (points) and a phenomenal job by our team,” Johnson said. “For us to be able to win the first championship in 30 years is a pretty special thing.”

The highlight of the day for the Oregon women was another outstanding race for Jenna Prandini, the sophomore sprinter who became a star this year for Oregon. A day after getting off to a poor start in the 100 final, Prandini had an excellent start in the 200 race and had a slight lead early. Things tightened up in the final straight, and it was four runners hitting the line together. Kamaria Brown of Texas A&M got the win by .007 over Prandini. Both had the same official time of 22.63.

Prandini was the high scorer of the meet for the women, with 24 points from a first in the long jump, second in the 200 and third in the 100. She said she was satisfied with her performance.

“It has been a fun meet and I’m excited with how I performed,” Prandini said. “This meet has really helped me grow as an athlete.”

University of Oregon's Sarah Penney

Notes . . . UO freshman Brittany Mann placed sixth in the shot put final on Saturday and her mark of 56-0 broke her own school record . . . the Oregon women 4 x 400 team placed third in the final. Their performance was highlighted by Laura Roesler’s outstanding third leg in which she moved from seventh place to third. It was Roesler’s last race as a Duck . . . Oregon senior Sarah Penney was pushed off the track on the start of the third lap of the 1500. Penney somehow avoided falling as she dodged cameras and equipment on the infield and she was able to get back on the track and finish the race. The mishap probably kept her from scoring points in the event. She finished the race tenth in 4:22.60. Coach Robert Johnson said Oregon considered filing a protest over the incident but decided against it partially because he was still “a little stinged” from the protest which disqualified his 4 x 400 team . . . Oregon distance runners scored 47 of the men’s team total of 88 points, upholding the strong Oregon tradition in the distance races.


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