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Gardner Injury Leaves Ducks' Title Hopes in Doubt
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
June 6, 2013

English Gardner - University of Oregon
EUGENE - On Wednesday University of Oregon Head Coach Robert Johnson said,"There are going to be ebbs and flows in any championship meet. Those that are able to handle the highs and lows will be happy on Saturday.

What occurred on Thursday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Historic Hayward Field showed Johnson to be something of a prophet.

UO sprinter English Gardner is crucial to the Ducks' title hopes, and she looked great in 100 meter qualifying on Wednesday. But Gardner did not look good at all in her 200 meter semifinal on Thursday afternoon. Noticeably limping, Gardner finished in seventh place in 23.70, more than a second slower than her personal best.

An emotional Gardner appeared in the mixed zone a short time later, and talked about an ankle injury, which, as it turns out, was not new but something she had been dealing with for awhile.

"I'm kinda banged up," Gardner said. "Just trying to keep it a little hush. It kind of popped up a little bit in the 200."

She said the injury is "A little inflammation in my ankle. Something I've been dealing with since regionals . . . something that has been hanging around all season. It definitely gave me a little hello sign today. I'm going to have a little talk with it and see who wins the argument."

Oregon fans better hope that Gardner wins that argument. As good as this women's team is, they need their star at something close to peak form if they are going to finally break through and win the outdoor championship, not to mention complete their goal of the triple crown of cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field titles.

Still smiling through a few lingering tears, Gardner seemed to be more hopeful than distraught in assessing her chances of coming back strong on Friday in the finals of the 4 x 100 relay and the 100 meters.

"Only God can tell," she said. "I'm pushing through it. I still got 4x1, 4x4, 100, so I'm going to stay prayed up, iced up and hit the training rooms and make sure I do all the little things to get better.

"Hopefully in this 100 I can make it up. Everyone knows once I have an upset I usually come back with a little fire so I'm definitely doing something inside right now. We're in the heat, we're in the battle, we're fighting, so I just have to be a Spartan and get my shield and my spear and go to work."

The Duck women also qualified seniors Anne Kesselring and Becca Friday in the 1500, with Kesselring taking 3rd in her heat in 4:14.74 and Friday 4th in a different heat in 4:17.46. Both women appear to have a good shot to score points for the Ducks in Saturday's final.

Oregon was also in a close battle in the women's 4 x 400 relay semifinal. With freshman Jenna Prandini subbing for Gardner, the Ducks clocked the fastest time of the day, 3:28.15, in winning their heat, which was the fastest of the day.

Prandini said that she was expecting to run the 4 x 400 prelim even before Gardner limped through the 200. Although she is a key member of the 4 x 100 relay, she hasn't been asked to run on the 4 x 400 much this year until now. But Prandini said it wasn't an unexpected duty.

"We kind of planned on English not running it to save her for the finals," Prandini said. "I was expecting it all week and was getting ready for it mentally so I wasn't surprised at all . . . This was probably my third time running it this year. It was hard but it felt good."

Prandini ran a solid first leg, then junior Chizoba Okodogbe blazed through a 51.5 leg to move into second place. Laura Roesler overtook Florida with a 51.8 leg to take the lead, and Phyllis Francis brought the favored Ducks home in first with a 51.1 anchor leg that looked effortless.

Meanwhile, the Oregon men rebounded strongly from a tough day on Wednesday.

Mike Berry, who was one of the favorites in the men's 400 but failed to advance to the final, ran a strong anchor leg on the 4 x 400 relay. Berry got the baton in third place, but his 44.9 leg moved the Ducks into second and automatically qualified them for the final. Oregon's time of 3:04.20 was the fifth-fastest of the qualifying times.

"I'm over it," Berry said about Wednesday's race. "I have to have a short-term memory, but of course I was disappointed in my performance yesterday. So I wanted to come back out here and run to the best of my ability for the team."

Redshirt freshman Greg Skipper scored the first points of the meet for the Ducks with a fourth-place finish in the hammer throw.

On his second throw of the preliminaries, Skipper sailed his throw 219-11, near his season best mark of 222-5. It put him into second and got the sizeable crowd watching the hammer excited.

However, Skipper was unable to improve on that mark through the finals, and ended up fourth.

"I think it went pretty well," Skipper said. "But not the series I wanted. I wanted to be more consistent around 220', but all in all it was a good meet, a good experience . . . After seeing what everyone was doing in the first flight I was thinking maybe (I could take) second. It didn't work out that way and I think it was as good as it could go. . . . Nerves got to me a little bit I guess."

In the final of the men's 10,000 meters Parker Stinson earned another three points for Oregon with his sixth-place finish in 29:46.45. Stinson had run 28:34.71 earlier in the season, the third-fastest collegiate time, but the 10K final started out slow. Late in the race, favorite Lawi Lalang of Arizona began to rachet up the pace, making each lap a little faster than the previous one, as he pulled away to win by 12 seconds in 29:29.65.

Earlier in the day, UO sophomore Johnathan Cabral won his semifinal heat of the 110 high hurdles in a slightly wind-aided time of 13.46. The other two semis were each about .2 seconds faster than Cabral's and he said he was looking forward to matching up with the best in Saturday's final.

"I did what we all want to do - go out there, finish and move on to the next thing," Cabral said. "Saturday is going to be a fun day. I'm excited that the competition is only getting better. I can't wait to get out there. We'll see who the best man is. I can't wait to get out there and enjoy myself."

At the end of a long day, Johnson maintained a positive outlook about the women's title quest, said his men's team still had a chance to win a team trophy, and refused to second-guess himself for giving Gardner such a heavy work load at this meet.

The finals on Friday and Saturday will reveal how accurate his assessment is.

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