June 7, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Courtney Mains
EUGENE, Ore. – It’s been nearly 15 months since an NCAA championship meet was conducted in track and field and the winning team wasn’t Oregon.
The Ducks swept the NCAA Indoor titles earlier this year, and the NCAA Outdoor championship meets a year ago. The current UO track and field programs differ from those in some important ways. Unchanged is the expectation that UO coach Robert Johnson’s teams will be in the thick of the races when this year’s NCAA Outdoor meet is held Wednesday through Saturday at Hayward Field.
“They live that day in and day out,” Johnson said. “So what we’re doing right now isn’t anything new, isn’t anything special, isn’t anything different. This is the life they live.”
For the second straight year, the meet is split into men’s and women’s sections, with the men kicking off the competition Wednesday. The decathlon begins at 12:30 p.m., the first of five field event finals will be the hammer throw at 2 p.m., and action on the track begins at 4:32 p.m., headlined by the 10,000-meter final at 7:08 p.m.
The decathlon wraps up Thursday, which otherwise will feature women’s field events, preliminaries on the track and the 10,000-meter final at 7:08 p.m. The bulk of the men’s finals will be contested Friday; the heptathlon begins that afternoon, and concludes Saturday along with the women’s portion of the meet.
The Oregon men enter the meet ranked third in the national coaches’ poll, and the UO women rank sixth. According to those rankings, Arkansas is the favorite on the women’s side this week, and Texas A&M is atop the men’s poll.
“I think there’s five or six teams on both sides that have a great shot at being competitive,” said Texas A&M coach Pat Henry, whose men’s team boasts the current NCAA leader in the 400 (Fred Kerley), javelin (Ioannis Kyrias) and decathlon (Lindon Victor). “It only takes one or two mistakes to get another team right back up in it.”
The Texas A&M men will be challenged by an Oregon contingent that includes recent national champions Edward Cheserek and Devon Allen. And LSU’s deep pool of sprinters, led by Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, are expected to keep the Tigers in the thick of the race as well.
“They’ve just got a huge challenge,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “In the four disciplines, we’re only in one discipline. On the men’s side, it’s probably been a long, long time since somebody won competing in just one of the disciplines. …
“We have 10 scoring opportunities. We’re going to have to take advantage of every single one of those to have a shot at the team title.”
On the women’s side, Oregon sprinters Deajah Stevens, Hannah Cunliffe and Ariana Washington and defending 800-meter champion Raevyn Rogers may have to be similarly efficient to help the Ducks keep pace with Arkansas. The Razorbacks feature distance standout Dominique Scott and a talented group of six freshman qualifiers headlined by the NCAA leader in the pole vault, Alexis Weeks.
“They’re going to be in a little bit of shock when those stands get filled and people start screaming for the Ducks,” Arkansas coach Lance Harter said. “It’s a matter of who can survive and who can make a final.”
Right off the bat in Wednesday’s session, Oregon’s Allen will try to qualify for three finals. He’s entered on the UO 4×100 relay team that could pick up crucial points for the Ducks, as well as the 200 meters and also his specialty, the 110 hurdles.
Allen said Tuesday he doesn’t want to be known solely as a hurdler, a designation he could start shedding by scoring in the sprints this week.
“Any event I’m in, I want to win,” the two-sport star said. “It’s going to be a little harder in a few, so I just need to be really prepared and 100 percent locked in. Hopefully everything goes my way and I can run fast.”
As the NCAA champ in the 110 hurdles in 2014, before a knee injury sidelined him last spring, Allen will be expected to contend again for a national title this week. But in what are expected to be tightly contested team races on both sides, the Ducks will value just as much those sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place finishes that provide valuable points.
“We need our stars to be stars,” Johnson said. “And we need our stars-in-waiting to show up.”