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Ducks Open Outdoor Track Season Still On a High from Indoor Championships
By Steve Ritchie/Special to the Statesman Journal
March 22, 2014

Oregon 4 x 400 relay teams battle for the lead at the Oregon Preview

EUGENE - Many of the University of Oregon's track and field athletes are still coming down from the high of sweeping the men's and women's NCAA Indoor Championships last weekend, but, ready or not, their outdoor season opened up on Saturday at Hayward Field with the Oregon Preview.

Helped by the blue skies and an enthusiastic crowd, the Ducks got their outdoor season off to a strong start in the non-scoring invitational meet, which attracted athletes from many of the region's small colleges and a few Divison I schools.

Many of Oregon's top performers of both genders competed last Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and upset the form charts in winning their two national titles. For the Oregon women, the indoor title was their fifth consecutive NCAA indoor championship - a feat that has only been accomplished by one other school. Not bad for a school without an indoor track.

Laura Roesler and Edward Cheserek with the national championship trophies

The NCAA title for the UO women was secured in dramatic fashion in the 4 x 400 relay. Going into the relay, the Ducks trailed Texas by 1.5 points, and Oregon was chasing Texas on the final leg of the relay. Anchor Phyllis Francis caught Ashley Spencer of Texas in the final meters, and took the win by .02 seconds with her lean at the tape. The 10 points from that event pushed Oregon a half-point ahead of Texas and gave them the trophy.

The Oregon men were ranked just sixth going into the NCAA Indoors, but caught fire early in the meet behind fabulous freshman distance runner Edward Cheserek and they rode the momentum to an eight-point win over Arkansas. Cheserek won both the 5000 and 3000 meters, and was honored as the 2014 Division I NCAA Indoor Athlete of the Year. He is the first freshman ever to win that award, and is now three for three in NCAA championship races, having won the NCAA cross country title last fall as well.

While Cheserek and a few other Duck stars, sat out the Preview meet, most of the Oregon athletes were in action on Saturday. Head coach Robert Johnson mentioned Lauren Crockett in the high jump, Christian Brennan in the 200, and Brittany Mann, who won the shot at 53-4.5, as the meet's top women performers for the Ducks.

Crockett, a junior from Ogden, Utah, cleared 6-0.5 feet in her specialty for the first time to tie her for third place on the UO all-time list, and also ran a strong 14.32 time in the 100 hurdles. "It's our first home meet, and I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself," Crockett said. "I just wanted to go out there and have fun . . . Jumping well is always a good time."

Brennan, a freshman from Ontario, Canada who won the 200 and 400 on Saturday, a week after running on the 4 x 400 team in Albuquerque, said she was glad to finally experience competing before the home crowd at historic Hayward Field. "It was really awesome," Brennan said. "I've never raced here and the crowd is so loud and exciting, it makes you really excited." Brennan's time of 23.61 in the 200 is ninth-best all-time for the Ducks.

Another athlete glad to be back at Hayward was junior hurdler Johnathan Cabral. Cabral won the 110 high hurdles in 13.78, and said even after the excitement of helping the UO men win a national title with a fourth-place finish at NCAAs, he was glad to be back at Hayward. "It was great to come out here and get into the Hayward magic again. I missed that during indoor (season)."

Other solid performers on the men's side were Greg Skipper, who won the hammer with a toss of 212', javelin winner Sam Crouser (219-04), and Jeremy Elkaim, who won the 1500 meter in 3:45.33 and was runner-up in the 3000. With the NCAA Outdoor Championships coming up in June at Hayward, Johnson was not looking ahead too far, but said he was excited about what he saw on Saturday and the team's potential.

"What a great Oregon Preview we had here," Johnson said. "In my nine years here, this is the second time we've had weather like this at the Preview. Overall, it was a great day. Lots of good, solid opening performances. "One of the officials who has been here for 30 years said he can't remember (another) Oregon team that had such good chemistry and such good depth," Johnson said after the meet. "Those historians that have way more years here than I do are good barometers of what we're trying to do and our success."


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