May 25, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
Training runs lately for Sam Prakel have been shorter, the pace quicker.
The intensity has picked up in recent weeks for Oregon track and field, the postseason growing nearer with every step. The Ducks kicked it off by sweeping the Pac-12 Conference team titles earlier this month in Seattle, and now turn to the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds, a three-day meet beginning Thursday in Lawrence, Kansas.
“It’s fun now, seeing the plan play out,” said Prakel, one of four UO men entered in the 1,500 meters. “We’ve been talking about these next couple weeks for a long time, ever since the fall. So it’s fun to see how things play out, and move into action.”
Prakel is one of 26 men’s entries from Oregon, joining 32 on the women’s side. The top 12 finishers in each event this week will advance to the NCAA Outdoor championship meet, June 8-11 at Hayward Field.
An NCAA title can’t be won this week, but a chance for one can be lost. Which is why UO coach Robert Johnson wants his team taking a championship mindset to Kansas, rather than leaving it for safe keeping in Eugene.
“It’s the next step in the process for us to get to NCAAs,” Johnson said. “Matter of fact, this is NCAAs. The way they have it coined is, this is the first round.”
Prakel is one of a number of Ducks who showed at the conference championships that he’s right on schedule with his training plan. Prakel ran a season-best 3:40.11 at the Pac-12 meet to finish just behind teammate Matthew Maton. Among the other UO standouts to record season bests in Seattle included Devon Allen (110 hurdles), Edward Cheserek (10,000 meters) and Greg Skipper (hammer throw).
The intention will be to improve again on a national stage over the next three weekends.
“The plan’s working so far,” Prakel said. “Peaking at the right time is the biggest challenge, but I think something that our team does well.”
On the women’s side, the Ducks got season bests in Seattle from the likes of Hannah Cunliffe (200), Raevyn Rogers (800) and Jasmine Todd (long jump). Brittany Mann just missed hers, but threw the shot 55 feet, 7 inches to take home an individual conference title.
Mann was 10th at the NCAA Indoor championships and didn’t make much noise early in the outdoor season. But she matched her UO record of 56-6 ¾ at the Oregon Twilight in early May, before winning the Pac-12 title just over a week later.
“I feel great,” Mann said. “I’m right where I want to be – starting to get consistent at a pretty good distance.”
Mann called the Ducks’ Pac-12 championships experience “an amazing weekend” and “everything we could have hoped for.”
“I really don’t think we could have set ourselves up any better going into next week,” Mann said.
Thus do the Ducks seem mentally ready to peak on the national stage. Their coaches have worked all season to make sure they’re physically ready to do so as well.
“We’ve put all the building blocks in place,” Johnson said. “Now it’s just trying to get to the finish line.”