Oregon Men looking for a trophy

At the beginning of the season no one knew quite what to expect of the Oregon men's team. Five-time NCAA champion Ashton Eaton and three-time NCAA champion Andrew Wheating were gone.

Oregon had a lot of great returners and a great recruiting class (with two unexpected transfers) but they lacked experience to help the Ducks challenge for an NCAA trophy in Des Moines, Iowa or continuing the Duck streak of four consecutive Pac-10 team titles looked to be a very difficult proposition. The team did pull out their fifth consecutive title and has a shot at a trophy after the way the team came together at the Pac-10 meet.

Leading the returners is junior Matthew Centrowitz. He has been among the top-three nationally in the 1,500 meters with his best time (first at 3:36.92 from his freshman year) or at the NCAA meet (third last year). In Des Moines last summer he finished fifth (3:51.81) in a kicker's race at the US championships. This fall he finished tenth at this fall's NCAA Cross Country Championships and helped the team finish sixth and then finished fourth over 3,000 meters at the NCAA indoor Track and Field Championships. He just won his third consecutive Pac-10 1,500 meter title and he is one of the favorites to win his first NCAA individual title over 1,500 meters.

Centrowitz really wants to win in Des Moines, "Something that I wanted to accomplish since my redshirt freshman year. There is obviously a lot of really good talent out there and you've got to take everyone seriously."

Finishing just ahead of Centrowitz at the NCAA Championships last year was AJ Acosta. At the Pac-10 championships last year Acosta had a breakout performance to score 19 points in five events and helped the Ducks win their fourth consecutive Pac-10 title. Following the NCAA meet Acosta ran at the US championships (top non-qualifier for the final in 3:41.91 and then ran a huge personal record for the mile (3:53.76 third all-time at Oregon) at the Prefontaine Classic and then set another school record over 1,500 meters (3:36.48) at KBC Nacht.

Acosta struggled at this year's Pac-10 meet and then kicked to a second place finish in the West Regional Quarterfinal behind Centrowitz. Acosta could score at the NCAA meet and if he can get into the same fitness as last year he could win this year's 1,500 meters.

Sixth-year senior Alex Wolff threw a personal record (242-7) at the US championships to finish fifth. The two-time all-American has trained through most of the season but has now peaked after throwing 241-10 at the West Regional meet. He is in the mix to score at the NCAA championships but may have to throw over 250' to get in the top four.

Alex Wolff said about Des Moines, "Both times I have competed there I have had a personal best." The West Region result was encouraging for Alex, "Hopefully it will carry over into NCAAs. As soon as I threw I knew I would make it."

Sophomore Elijah Greer just missed the NCAA final after running 1:46.99 (sixth fastest all-time for the Duck in the semifinals. He ran in the heat of Des Moines for the US championships and made the semifinals. This winter he was the national leader in the 800 meters after beating a top field at the Husky Classic with a time of 1:47.02. He got sick right before the NCAA indoor meet and couldn't compete. He started his season late and was not 100 percent until Pac-10s where he finished second to national leader Cory Primm. At the West Regional meet he won his semifinal in 1:45.98 (fifth all-time among Ducks). He is in the mix to be a high scorer in Des Moines.

Junior Luke Puskedra had a great start to the season. He finished third at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. He ran a near-pr 13:46.70 to get a dominating win at the UW Invitational. Shortly after he got a stress fracture and it took him out of training for a while and he did not run well at the NCAA meet. He spent time early this spring to get into shape and his first meet was the Pac-10 meet where he finished fifth in the 10,000 meters (29:35.67) in the heat of Tuscon, Arizona. He showed his fitness by coming back the next day and finishing fourth in the 5,000 meters (14:02.62). He finished 11th at the West Regional meet in a season-best 29:19.68.

Senior David Klech had shown the potential to be an indoor Heptathlete with his all-around marks in jumping, sprinting and hurdle events that he had in high school. He competed in his first heptahlon this year and finished sixth at the NCAA indoor meet with a score of 5831 points (second all-time at Oregon). Klech's weakest events have been the throws and the pole vault is still a work-in-progress but he has improved over the season in all of his events and he finished second at the Pac-10 championships with a personal record of 7581. He is the 16th seed and must come up with a big performance to score at the NCAA championships.

The men have four new Ducks at this meet. Two were recruited and two are senior transfers. Two of them are in contention for an NCAA title. Steeplechaser Steve Finley ran his first steeplechase of 2010 at the ACC championships where he finished second and set a personal record at the East Regional meet (8:40.56). He was 11th at the NCAA championships in Eugene and cited Hayward Field hosting championship meets in Eugene as a reason for coming to Oregon for his senior year. He ran a nation-leading 8:36.98 at the Payton Jordan Classic. He followed that with wins at the Pac-10 championships and won his West Regional semifinal race. Defending champion Matt Hughes ran a collegiate leading 8:35.74 to win his East Region semifinal.

Last year freshman Michael Berry won his second consecutive Washington State title for Rainier Beach High School (46.81). He followed that with a fourth-place finish at the US Junior Championships in Des Moines (46.39) and ran a personal record to win the US Junior Olympics (46.13). At the World Junior Championships he ran the anchor for the winning team (46.0 split). This winter he ran 46.89 on the tight indoor curves in Seattle at the UW Final Qualifier. Outdoors he has consistently improved and beat 2010 NCAA third-place finisher Joey Hughes at the Pac-10 championships by running a school record of 44.91. He is one of the top seeds at the NCAA championships.

Senior transfer Justin Frick was fourth at the Pac-10 meet with a clearance of 7-1 1/2 to move to seventh all-time at Oregon and he could score. Freshman Parker Stinson was seventh at Pac-10 in 29:55.44 and has run 29:14.35. Parker is returning to the site where he won his second-consecutive US junior 10,000 meters title. Senior All-American Jordan Stray was third at Pac-10 with a pr 219-7 and he is the 11th seed and hopes to score in his third NCAA appearance.

Both Centrowitz and Wolff are encouraged by the Pac-10 performance. Wolff said before the meet, "We have a strong team going. I know we'll have to do really well. Everyone will have to perform extremely well for us to place high in the team rankings." Centro knows this team competes hard, "We could surpass the formchart like at PAc-10s."

Matthew sees a wide range of potential scorers, "We have a pretty dynamic team on the guys side going in." Getting a trophy if everyone competes well is not out of the question. Indoors we had a limited guys's squad. Outdoors we are bringing a little more than indoors." Alex notices the quality on the team, "We have a lot of good individuals out there."

When you have the confidence of winning five straight Pac-10 titles and the ability to pull out a win when there is a lot of competition tells Lananna this team is ready to go, "What I've seen happen to the Oregon team It has gotten to the point where this is a championships caliber team on the men's and women's side and that will carry us a long way. They have learned together how to win."

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