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Duck women begin quest for NCAA title and "triple crown"
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
June 5, 2013

English Gardner - University of Oregon
EUGENE - On the first day of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field, the University of Oregon men took a major body blow when Mike Berry failed to advance in the 400 meters, but the Oregon women sailed through qualifying without a hitch in their quest for their first national title since 1985.

If they are successful, the Duck women can also lay claim to an unprecedented "triple crown" of national championships - cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field - something no NCAA Division 1 women's program has ever accomplished in the same academic year.

The Ducks won the NCAA Cross Country Championship last November in Louisville, and ran away with the indoor title in March in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After four straight runner-up finishes at the NCAA outdoor meet, the UO women are clearly hoping that the "Hayward Field magic" will finally help push them over the top.

Wednesday's qualifying events and finals, with a Hayward crowd of 9,001 ready to support the Ducks at every turn, made their title quest seem a little more likely. The Ducks got all their athletes through to the finals, while Kansas, the team projected to narrowly beat Oregon, suffered a major casualty when 400 meter runner Diamond Dixon placed third in her qualifying heat and did not advance to Friday's 400 final.

The meet form chart put together for Track & Field News by Jack Pfeifer has the UO women placing second, one point behind Kansas, and 12 points ahead of Arkansas, so Dixon not making the final could prove to be big in the team race. She was projected to place fifth, worth five points for the Jayhawks.

UO junior English Gardner, who is being counted on by the Ducks to score big in the 100 and 200, as well as contribute on both relays, did her part on Wednesday. Gardner anchored the Duck 4 x 100 relay team to a victory in their semifinal, and had the day's second-fastest time in 100 meter qualifying, a wind-aided 11.0.

Gardner burst out of the blocks and seemed to be in control of the race, when University of Central Florida sophomore Octavious Freeman caught her at the tape and got the win by .01 second.

"I definitely eased up a little bit . . . (but) I only had to get top two," Gardner said. "You always want to get out there and go for it but you've got to be smart. I've learned how to run rounds and that is what I'm trying to do."

Gardner's teammate, freshman Jenna Prandini also qualified for Friday's 100 meter final, running a major personal best of 11.14, a development that may significantly boost the team's title prospects.

"I'm ecstatic," Prandini said. "I told myself if I wanted to get to the finals I would have to PR and do what I haven't done before. I got out there and ran as best as I could and I got through."

Gardner said that Prandini's break-through helped her and the team.

"I told her as long as you push and get out you're going to make it," Gardner said. "She listened, she got out of the blocks, and she executed and she did well. (Having her in the final) definitely took a little of the load off my shoulders. I'm carrying two big sandbags right now so it definitely helped me.

"The whole team is hungry so we're definitely ready to get out there and put on a show for our fans because they deserve this . . . I love being here, I love my fans and I love the Hayward magic."

Other Oregon women advancing to the finals were junior Laura Roesler, who won her 800 semi comfortably in 2:03.63, and junior Phyllis Francis, who looked strong in running a fast 51.83 in her 400 semi.

Oregon's Liz Brenner hit a huge eight-foot PR of 168-09 on her second throw of the javelin competition to make finals. While she did not improve on that mark, the four-sport star managed to hold on to eighth-place, earning one point - essentially a bonus point in the team race, since she was not figured to score in the javelin.

The Hayward magic was not as strong for the Oregon men.

Junior Mike Berry, who came into the meet with the fourth-fastest time in the 400, went out fast in his semi, but struggled down the homestretch and finished fourth. It looked like he might still make the final as a time qualifier when he and Akheem Gauntlett of Arkansas, who ran in a different heat, tied for the eighth-fastest time. But when the timers took it the official times to thousandths of a second, Berry lost out by .004 seconds. He will get another chance when he anchors Oregon's 4 x 400 meter relay in Thursday's qualifying, but the lost points in the 400 probably doom the Oregon men's team chances.

Senior Elijah Greer, the clear-cut favorite in the men's 800, had to step on the gas in the second lap of his heat to win going away in 1:48.76. A former Oregon high school champion from Lake Oswego, Greer won the indoor title in the 800 and has the fastest outdoor time this season by any collegian at 1:46.20. He said he was happy to finally get to race.

"I'm glad I'm here, I'm glad (the meet's) here and I'm glad I'm ready," Greer said. After dropping back and having to run hard the last 400 to qualify, Greer added, "I need to run smart and not spot those guys so much."

Decathlete Dakota Keys didn't have his best day, but the sophomore from Sweet Home held it together and even managed a personal best in the shot put. His best events are all on the second day, so he may be able to move up into the top eight. Based on his PR 8,001 decathlon at the Pac-12 meet, Keys was projected to finish fourth here, but that looks to be in doubt. Keys is in 15th place with 3,941 points after day one.

Coach Robert Johnson didn't seem worried, however, either about Keys or about his team's chances.

"There are going to be ebbs and flows in any championship meet," Johnson said. "Those that are able to handle the highs and lows will be happy on Saturday.

"Dakota is moving right along. Steady Eddie is what we call him. Pretty much just a solid day for Dakota and we get some of his highlight events tomorrow with pole vault and javelin."

Notes . . . Ryan Crouser, the former Oregon high school champion from Barlow High School, won the shot put title with a mark of 66-07.5. Amazingly, it was Crouser's only legal throw of the competition - all of his five other attempts were fouls . . . Betsy Saina of Iowa State sprinted away from Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton of Wichita State in the last 200 meters of the 10,000 meters to win in 33:08.85. The women's 10K was the only final on the track on Wednesday . . . The men's 100 meter semifinals resulted in some very fast times on Wednesday evening. The three qualifying races were won by Dentarius Locke of Florida State in 9.97, Isiah Young of Mississippi in 10.00, and Charles Silmon of TCU in 9.92. The times of Young and Silmon were wind-aided, but Locke's time will count as the eighth-fastest all-time for a collegian . . . The UO men's 4 x 100 relay team, anchored by De'Anthony Thomas ran a season-best 39.89 but finished sixth in their heat, and failed to advance to the final.

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