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Hurdles at Eugene, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

First Track & Field Crown For Duck Women Since 1985

 

Eugene, Oregon

As a capacity crowd poured into Hayward Field on the last day of competition, most of the spectators had one thought on their mind: Would the women of Oregon - team leaders after Thursday's preliminaries - get it all together to win Oregon's first women's outdoor track and field team title since 1985? Before the action commenced, aficionados scoured form charts, fiddled with their iPads, and shared thoughts about the chances for the Lady Ducks - who would take a 9 point lead into the final day. Did they have enough potential points? Could young, untested finalists be able to shine on the big stage? Might the day end with the Oregon women - with no 4x4 squad in the last race- sitting helplessly in the stands watching another team outpoint the Lady Ducks in the final event to take home the championship trophy?

 

You could feel the energy from the partisan crowd as 8 sprinting quartets - including Oregon - lined for the day's opening running event: the 4 x 100 relay. Could the host team's 4 x 1 squad get the day off on the right webbed foot? The crowd was restless as Oregon's first pass was balky. The gasps turned to groans as a no-doubt-about-it exchange violation was committed on the Duck's second pass. Well behind, Oregon senior Jenna Prandini put the pedal down on the anchor, but it was of no avail. The inevitable Oregon disqualification nullified the Duck's 6th place finish and took away the measly - but potentially critical - 3 points they could have salvaged. The Ducks had hoped for more - perhaps 6 - 8 points one coach confided - but ended up with zero. After only one event on this final day, was it over for the Ducks?

Meanwhile, other teams were on the move. In the w100H, Kentucky gained 10 valuable points when Kendra Harrison - their senior hurdle star - clocked 12.55for the win in a race in which USC frosh Dior Hall got up for third in 12.74 - a new World Junior record.

In the very next event - the 100m - Oregon responded. Prandini - warmed up from her relay stint - overcame a horrid start with a strong finish and great lean to win the short sprint in 10.96. 10 points for the Ducks pushed their total to 41. Might they still have a chance?

As the day progressed and the finalists lined up for the 800m, everyone knew that meaningful points from Oregon's middle distance hopeful Raevyn Rogers would be essential for the host school's cause. Could this relatively-untested freshman rise to the occasion? Clemson's Natoya Goule - often a frontrunner - bolted to the lead immediately and split 200m in 26 seconds. Rogers headed the disciplined chase pack which wisely declined to follow Goule's torrid pace. Splitting 400 in 56.15 - only slightly slower that the bell lap time posted in the men's 800m championship the previous day - Goule soon began laboring at the top of the backstretch. Rogers - still in second - began patiently cutting into the Clemson runner's margin, finally passing the struggling Tiger by the steeplechase water jump. Swinging onto the Bowerman curve, Rogers was greeted with thunderous cheers - just what she needed to drive through the line for the victory in 1:59.71 - the 4th fastest time in Oregon history. Suddenly, the Duck point total stood at 51 - 14 better than second place Arkansas - as the Prandini and Rogers victories had lifted the Oregon gloom. Oregon Head Coach Robert Johnson was unrestrained in reflecting upon the pressure packed performance of his freshman two-lapper. "Oh my God, Raevyn Rogers is a freshman, ladies and gentleman. To run 1:59!" exclaimed the Duck coach. "We've had some pretty special 800 meter runners come here. We had one win here last year [Bowerman Award winner Laura Roesler] and she didn't do that as a freshman. So look out Raevyn, look out world for Raevyn Rogers!"

In the 400H, a world-leading performance by Texas A&M's Shamier Little [53.74] gave her an impressive win - #4 collegiate mark of all time. But a 2-3 finish by Kentucky's Kendra Harrison and Leah Nugent pushed the Wildcat's team total to 38 - just 13 points behind Oregon.

But the Lady Ducks were just about ready to close the show. As Oregon 100m winner Prandini and the rest of the field loaded into the blocks for the 200m final, word spread that Oregon needed only 3 points to clinch the team title. The Duck sprint star was up to the task. Only a magnificent clocking by Kentucky's Dezerea Bryant [22.18 - #3 on the WL board] could deny Prandini [2nd in 22.21 - #4 on the WL list] the sprint double she sought. But her eight 2nd place points were more than enough to end the 30-year drought and give the women of Oregon the team championship trophy.

At the meet's conclusion as the Duck women were in the afterglow of their first outdoor team title in 30 years, Johnson began his post-meet observations by emphasizing how important the women's crown is to Oregon. "This one is special because we have been close on this one for a long time. Looking back, we've been second, we've second, we've second. And so to be able to finally break through and get this win is really special for our program."

The Oregon leader couldn't say enough about his team and his top performers. "What do you say about that thing right there?" asked Coach Johnson in reference to Prandini's clutch sprint and jump performances. "[For Prandini] to be able take on the task we asked her to do coming into this championship is monumental. For her to go on and win the 100, get nipped in the long jump, and to be runner-up in the 2 - I wish we had 10 more like her."

Johnson downplayed the 4x100 gaffe and cited his athletes' resilience. "They're battle-tested. We've kind of been this situation before. This is just a true testament of that. Those girls [the 4x1 squad] practice a lot there. And to have that mishap there is definitely unfortunate. But as you can see, that is what a championship is. There is some ebb and flow. And we were just able to absorb them and keep on moving."

Johnson values all three of his programs: cross country; indoor track & field ; and outdoor track & field. But he was quick to acknowledge the special nature of this outdoor women's team victory. "We've been second at this one for a long time. So for us to finally get one on the anniversary of the '85 team [national championship win] is pretty special. We're a balanced program. We take each championship seriously. We're not going to just load up and only show up at the track championships, indoor and outdoor. We're going to compete hard in cross country. We're going to compete hard at indoor. And we're going to 100% compete outdoors. And I think that's what makes us special." But what makes this dual men's / women's team titles so special? Robert Johnson smiled and replied, "That's the crown jewel."

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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