Duck women on the road to a big track season

After winning their second consecutive NCAA indoor championship the Oregon Duck women are expected to challenge for an NCAA title outdoors. Last year was a great opportunity lost though, the Ducks were competing at home and lost 72-55 to Texas A&M, and this year they will attempt the feat in Des Moines, Iowa from June 8 to June 11.

Oregon does have seven individual event all-Americans returning (four seniors, one junior and two sophomores) and some very talented newcomers.

Senior and team captain Brianne Theisen set her first collegiate record, 4540 points, in the Pentathlon at the NCAA indoor championships where she won her fourth NCAA combined events title. A heavy favorite in the heptathlon outdoors (6094 pr), she has reached a level where she can score additional NCAA points in two individual events where she holds indoor school records (and outdoor hurdle record), the high jump (6-1 ¼ pr) and 100 hurdles (13.39 pr). The limit on the amount of extra points she can get will be dependent on the NCAA championship schedule. She also provided an invaluable first leg (53.7) on the NCAA outdoor championship and school record 4x400 meter relay last year.

This last fall sophomore Jordan Hasay had a fantastic season that culminated with a third place finish at the NCAA cross country championships. The momentum of that finish carried over into the indoor season and she had a spectacular NCAA indoor meet and won the mile (school record 4:33.01) and 3,000 meters (9:13.71). That double was last accomplished by Johanna Nilsson of Northern Arizona in 2006 but it is a very rare accomplishment. Only three other competitors in addition to Nilsson and Hasay have completed that double, collegiate record holders Vicky Huber (Villanova) in 1988 and Suzy Favor (Wisconsin) 1990 and Claire Eichner (Wisconsin) in 1993who had a season like former Duck Galen Rupp in 2009 (3,000 meters and 5,000 meters indoors) when she won four individual track titles on the season (1,500 and 3,000 meters outdoors outdoors too).

Outdoor competition is always more difficult than indoor because most teams focus their athletes' training for the athlete to peak outdoors and there will be additional athletes that missed the indoor season or ran in other events. Hasay used the motivation of a tough loss to Villanova in the Distance Medley Relay that is a school record performance (second and third fastest times every) 10:52.52 to 10:52.90 to encourage the coaches to allow her to run in the 3,000 meters (3k) even though the Ducks had already won the title. Outdoors will be a tougher double since the 3k is not run but she could improve on last year's third place finish.

As far as a double at NCAAs she said, "We'll see, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do at those meets…we'll just see where our teams standing but I'll do what we need to do to win." As far as how she recovered from the NCAA meet's four races in two days, "I just took a couple of weeks easy jogging," but she has gotten right back into really training and she is doing, "pretty long mileage now."

Senior Jamesha Youngblood joins Theisen and Hasay as captains in part due to their shared successes. Six-time all-American Youngblood has finished in the top five in four of the last five NCAA long jump competitions (pr 21-9). In her first three years she has also had a leg on the Ducks' successful relay teams but may be able to focus on just the long and triple jump due to the sprint depth on the squad. She has not scored at the NCAA meet in the triple jump but has won the last two Pac-10 championships in the long jump and triple jump.

Six time all-American senior Alex Kosinski ran a school record 15:44.60 and then set a personal record (pr) of 4:38.21 in the mile, both indoors, before a stress fracture in the back shut down her season right before the NCAA indoor meet. The team expects her to return late in the season and with her time indoors she is the third fastest collegiate runner in the 5,000 meters (third in the 2010 NCAA outdoor championships) but a double may be difficult to repeat in the heat and humidity of Des Moines. It is unlikely she will attempt the double that since-graduated ten-time all-American Nicole Blood tried last year.

The Ducks lost senior leadership with the graduation of fourth place outdoor finisher in the 400 meters, Keshia Baker (also legs on the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays). The Ducks do return eight-time all-American junior Amber Purvis (holds or is part of seven school records). Unfortunate incidents in 2009, when she was stepped on before the Pac-10 meet, and in 2010, a noise in the stands caused her to false start, have kept her from scoring in individual events at the NCAA outdoor meet.

At the NCAA indoor meet this year she scored and set school records to score in the 60 meters (7.20), fifth place, and 200 meters (23.17), seventh place, and is poised to score well in the 200 meters outdoors (school record 22.74) and lead both relays to high finishes. She ran 52.80 in the 400 meters at Pepsi for fourth among Ducks all-time but that is a high-effort race and the 100/200 double is more likely for the championship season, "I'm never leaving the 1-2. I love the 200. The 400 is really tough race for me, mentally-wise."

The win at Pepsi, "means a lot and gives us confidence going into the Pac-10 meet." She said some of the runners were disappointed with their times at Pepsi, "It's more about the team today."

Senior Melissa Gergel has scored in five of a possible seven NCAA pole vault competitions with her best finish a runner-up position at last year's NCAA indoor meet (14-7 ¼). This year she finished fourth indoors and showed tremendous consistency. She hopes to finish better than her best outdoor finish of eighth during her freshman year.

Sophomore Anne Kesselring was a veteran before she came to Oregon after two world junior competitions in the 800 meters. This five-time all-American has proven to be tough to beat in the 800 meters (sixth at 2010 NCAA outdoor) and has shown she has expanded her repertoire to the 1,500 meters/mile (fourth at NCAA indoor this year and sixth last).

"I have been trying to transition into being a 800 meter and 1500 meter runner for two years now. I am really excited to see what I can do in the 1500 and the 800 this year." At NCAA indoor she struggled early and got a second-wind that help her move from seventh to fourth over the last two laps but knows there is a big goal in Des Moines and she wants to, "just contribute as many points as possible at NCAAs to help get the team title." The coaches at Oregon are likely to put her in a place where she can score at the NCAA meet in June and it could be in both events.

Oregon's fifth key senior, Claire Michel, broke a bone in her foot at the NCAA West Regional steeplechase after winning the Pac-10 meet and had to miss three months to heal. Already this season she broke her school record by .06 (10:11.64) but must make significant improvements (probably run under 10:00) to score at the NCAA level.

Redshirt freshman Melanie (Lanie) Thompson admitted following Michel to negotiate the barriers at the Pepsi Team Invitational and then ran a tremendous 10:12.09 to beat a fast-closing 10:12.45 by Nebraska's Martina Barinova as both passed Michel (10:13.11 in the last 50 meters. This was a tremendous debut and bodes well for her future in this event.

Freshman English Gardner has tremendous potential as seen with her times from her sophomore year in high school (11.56 in the 100 meters, 23.60 in the 200 meters, and 53.98 in the 400 meters). Her junior year was lost after blowing out two of the ligaments (medial collateral and anterior cruciate) in her knee and tore the meniscus during a charity powder puff game just before a Thanksgiving of 2008. Her senior year yielded more than might have been expected (New Jersey Group 4 titles in the 100 and 200 meters) and she has had a good start to the season with an indoor school record in the 60 meters (7.29 since broken by Purvis) and wins in the 100 meters (11.62) and 200 meters (24.06) at the Pepsi Team Invitational. In spite of running into headwinds she moved to fifth on Oregon's all-time list in the 100.

She was excited about the meet and said later, "I wanted to shock the world." The Pac-10 conference took notice of her and named her Pac-10 track athlete of the week. She has a big future for the Ducks if she can stay healthy (indoors was cut short after a shin stress fracture) and her times should be significantly faster by the Pac-10 meet.

The newcomer with the biggest credentials is junior transfer Lauryn Newson. She was sixth at the US championships in the long jump after jumping 21-7 ¼. She came into the meet with a 21-1 ½ pr and has admitted that everything at the US meet was as much of a surprise to her as everyone else. "I surprised myself, everything just came together." She led Laney CC to the California JC title as she won her fourth and fifth career titles. She ran a pr 11.60 in the 100 (second title) at that meet and won the long jump (second title) to go along with a second in the 200 meters. Earlier in 2010 she ran 23.53 over 200 meters.

She will help the Ducks in those three events and is running the third leg on the 4x100 meter relay to replace Baker. The 4x100 team has lost Baker and Youngblood but Gardner has replaced Youngblood so far this year. The relay won at Pepsi in 44.59 but if coach Johnson can get this team to work together better, with faster legs than last year, they could break their school record from last year (43.27) and potentially improve on their third-place NCAA finish.

Freshman Laura Roesler has matured in the two years since she ran 2:03.08 to make the Olympic Trials of the 800 meters. She has run in the last two World Junior meets (2:04.35 in 2010 semifinals and 2008). The 21-time North Dakota state titlist (100 to 800 meters) is working with Robert Johnson and is starting to develop into a top level 400/800 meter runner. She recently caught all-American Keselring in the 800 at the Pepsi meet, 2:06.66 to 2:06.67. She is confident about the 800 meters, "the times will drop when we get to the championship season."

Her 400 pr coming into the season was 53.25 from last year (55.76 in 2008 and 55.10 in 2009) and she ran 54.63 at the Stanford Invitational and at Pepsi said, "I know I am capable of running faster in the open." Her confidence is well-founded after she ran a 52.30 anchor leg on Oregon's 4x400 meter NCAA indoor relay that finished eighth 3:34.98 (including tired and heavy-legged competitors Theisen and Purvis). It is very possible that a less-stressed team could run low 3:31s (3:31.17 by Arkansas was fifth last year) and the improving Roessler may have found a new primary event.

Training mate and fellow freshman Phyllis Francis is also developing her 400 speed. She did not run outdoors as a senior last year but won the National Scholastic Indoor Championships by running 2:07.54. She is looking for gradual improvement this year and in her first outdoor 800 at the Pepsi team meet she ran 2:08.98, "I just wanted to pr..do within 2:10, see how I feel and this way as the weeks go on drop my time down from there." She ran 2:04.83 in 2008 but has not broken 2:07 since. She is making huge strides in the 400. In 2009 she ran 56.57 and indoors last year she ran 55.82. At the Stanford Invitational she ran a huge pr of 54.28 and followed that with a fourth place finish at the Pepsi Team Invitational by running 2:08.98 and had a leg on the winning 4x400 meter relay.

Last year redshirt senior Michele Williams transferred to Oregon from Adams State. She was fourth over 400 meters at the MPSF championships in an indoor pr of 54.63 and outdoors ran a pr 53.36 for third at the Pac-10 meet. Her biggest impact was in the 4x400 meter relays where she ran two 52 second legs at the end of the outdoor season and helped the Duck women win the NCAA indoor (3:32.97) and NCAA outdoor meets (3:28.54). She was hurt before the indoor season and has only just recently started training again. She is hopeful she can return at the Oregon Twilight meet.

Redshirt sophomore Devin Gosberry transferred from Loyola to join Oregon's journalism program. She brings with her the indoor school records she set to win the 2010 Horizon League indoor championships over 200 meters (24.67) and 400 meters (53.67). In 2009 she won the outdoor championships in 54.33 (school record 54.19 earlier in the year). An injury forced her to redshirt outdoors last year and she was injured earlier this season. At the Pepsi meet Oregon's relay dominated in 3:36.87 with Gosberry, Purvis, Francis and Roesler running the legs.

Devin could help the team as an individual or on the 4x400 relay this year but she will be competing with California state runner-up Chizoba Okodogbe and Williams for a leg on the relay. Okodogbe ran 53.06 last season and contributed a leg on the NCAA indoor runner-up Distance Medley Relay (DMR) and 4x400 relay. She ran 54.44 at the MPSF meet and 54.85 for second at Pepsi.

Sophomore Becca Friday made a surprising late season run to the NCAA championships over 800 meters (2:05.89). She ran the 800 for the DMR team in March and has run three races faster than her old 1500 pr (4:24.58) and finished third at the Pepsi meet in 4:20.58 after a big finishing kick, necessary because she dropped back on the third lap. The soft-spoken runner admits, "I sometimes lose focus." She could challenge for a spot at the NCAA championships in either event.

Senior pole vaulter Jordan Roskelley came in with injuries and has never been able to stay healthy enough to do a significant amount of running or lifting. By limiting her practice time she has been healthier the last two years than when she started at Oregon and as a result has scored three years in a row at the MPSF meet and the last two years at the Pac-10 meet. She has cleared 13 feet consistently and had a pr clearance at the MPSF meet of 13-7 ¾ for her top conference finish of fourth place.

The senior class that was Vin Lananna's second class at Oregon has proven to be very successful. In the previous class Keshia Baker showed the way for California sprinters to come to Oregon (Amber Purvis and Jamesha Youngblood) and Mandy White and Amy Skofstad showed the way for sprinters and jumpers in Oregon.

Mandy White was a soccer and basketball player before Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego and decided to focus on track and cheerleading. In her junior year she was injured and did not score in the 100 at the state meet but in her senior year she was helped by current Portland State coach Ronny Harrison and she won both the 100 (11.90) and 200 (24.31) at the Oregon 6A level, prs by .6 seconds (100 meters) and almost 2 seconds in the 200 meters.

In her first year at Oregon she ran at the Pac-10 meet and has improved every year. Last year she ran at the NCAA meet indoors in the 60 meters and outdoors in the 100 meters. She scored for the first time in the Pac-10 meet last year (fourth in the 100 meters) and has scored four times at the MPSF 60 meters and three times in the 200 meters. She has been a stalwart on the 4x100 meters.

Senior Amy Skofstad came to Oregon from Gladstone where she won 4A state titles in the 200 meters (two), 400 meters and long jump and was one of the state's top 100 meter runners and triple jumpers. At Oregon she has helped the Ducks in all of those events and took a chance at helping the Ducks in the pole vault.

There are a large number of Pac-10 contributors and potential contributors on the team. Junior Lyndsay Pearson was sixth over 400 hurdles at the 2009 Pac-10 meet and was disqualified from last year's final and just finished second at Pepsi in 61.27 and junior Rebecca Rhodes jumped a pr 19-6 ¼ in long jump at the Pac-10 meet to get eighth and she jumped a season best 19-2 ½ at the Pepsi meet for fourth (against tough competition). Both will be entered in the 100 hurdles like last year (they were fourth and fifth at the Pepsi meet) but both need breakthroughs to score.

Junior Bronwyn Crossman has gradually developed (increased her weekly mileage by 10 miles per year every year) with the Ducks and ran a 1:45 pr over 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational, 33:43.99, to move to eighth all-time for the Ducks. She followed that performance with a victory over two NCAA 10k competitors with a quadrangular meet victory over 5,000 meters at the Pepsi Team Invitational (16:31.42).

She has adjusted to the 10k and the 5k is not as difficult for her anymore, "this one isn't long anymore." After the Stanford 10k she said she was, "not totally spent, this is good." With her inexperience at that pace and her ability to recover she may be able to run a faster pace at the Pac-10 championship meet and could productively double.

Freshman Sarah Andrews followed Crossman at Stanford and ran 33:53.44 to move to ninth all-time among the Ducks. In 2009 she was the Pan Am junior champ over 5,000 meters (16:42.38) but missed most of last season with a hamstring injury. This summer she got back into shape and helped the Duck cross country team.

Fellow freshman Laura Bobek also has come back from a physical ailment. Coming to the Ducks last year she and her parents determined that persistent wrist pain required that she get surgery to solve the problem. The radical surgery shortened bones in her forearm and relieved the pain but she had to take all of last season off. In 2009 she was one of the top high school throwers in the shot put (48-7) and discus throw (162-1) and is close to those marks so far this year in her return and year of recovery (45-2 ½ in the shot put and 154-3 in the discus throw). Senior Sara Cole was eighth in the hammer last year at the Pac-10 meet and was fifth at the Pepsi meet (161-11).

Sophomore Alex Davidson has shown significant improvement from high school in her events. She has pr'd this year with a .14 improvement in the 60 meters to 7.57, a windy improvement to 11.94, and a wind-legal improvement to 24.37 indoors in the 200 meters. She ran at the Pac-10 meet last year and will likely run again. Junior Camilla Dencer was not ready to run last year after transferring from UCLA but is starting to show her promise from high school and was fourth at the Pepsi meet in the 400 hurdles with her first attempt at the event, 61.88. Sophomore Taylor Wallace has struggled with health but still ran 10:39.44 in the steeplechase at the Pac-10 meet for eighth place.

Other freshmen that have battled health or transition issues this year have potential to score at the Pac-10 meet. Two-time California state pole vault (13-6 pr) champion Kortney Ross has battled hamstring problems this year. Two-time Oregon 4A state pole vault champion (pr 12-6) Sammie Clark from North Bend has also battle injuries. Five-time Oregon 5A state champion Olivia Ferrara of Liberty has had a slow start in both hurdle races (100 hurdles pr of 14.34 and 300 hurdles in 44.22).

Oregon also has three newcomers in the javelin throw. None are at the Pac-10 scoring level yet this season but freshman Felicia Odle already has thrown a ten-foot pr, 137-2, sophomore Carolanne Powers transferred to Oregon from Western Oregon after her freshman year and a 154-9 throw to win the GNAC conference last year and a fifth place finish (144-9) at the NCAA Division II championships. Powers has thrown 133-10 this year. Rachel Perry missed her senior year of high school and has recovered nicely with a 42-9 ½ throw in the shot put indoors and 133-2 in the javelin.

With the exception of the 400 meters (Baker) and 10,000 meters (Blood) the Ducks are better at every event with six all-American seniors providing leadership in a wide array of events. In spite of that it is unlikely the Ducks will repeat their spectacular performance at the Pac-10 meet last year when they won every flat race, the 4x100 relay, Long Jump, Triple Jump and Heptathlon. The Ducks will be heavily favored to win their third straight Pac-10 title and favored to trophy at the NCAA outdoor meet.

The city of Eugene and visiting teams are getting a full dose of track fever. Billboards grace Eugene and Purvis commented on her conversations with athletes from other schools, "Oregon is like the craziest school ever. Most schools are not used to that. A lot of people want to come to school for that." Oregon had the top recruiting class this year and they have a great start for next year's recruiting class.

The veterans on the team are likely to score a large number of points at the NCAA and Pac-10 meets and the surprises could very easily come from the freshmen and some fast-developing underclassmen. As a result, there should be a lot of excitement in Eugene

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