Oregon men go to Regionals

The West Regionals come on the heels for some sad news for the Ducks. The defending champion men's team just had news that two-time Footlocker champion Lukas Verbizcas has decided to change from running to focusing on the triathlon and will move to Colorado Springs.

With Colorado in the Mountain region the top teams from the Pac-12 meet will not run at the West Region meet hosted by #6 Stanford. The Stanford men were ranked #1 in the nation the previous two years and won the West Regional meet. Last year they were ranked second and Oregon won. #8 Portland had won 32 straight WCC titles but lost to WCC newcomer and third ranked BYU.

#17 Oregon will challenge NCAA regulars Stanford and Portland with true freshmen and inexperienced runners. Oregon has three returners from last year's NCAA race. Senior Luke Puskedra led the Duck charge last year with a third place finish. He has been rounding into form (fifth at the Pac-12 meet) after injuries slowed the early part of his season. Last year's sixth place finish in the NCAA 10,000 meters should give the three-time cross country all-American confidence for the rest of the season.

Last year sophomore Parker Stinson had a miserable first year for a now three-time US junior 10,000 meter champion. This year he has run extremely well (seventh at the Pac-12 meet) and looks like a sure all-American (top 50 runners). Sophomore Ben DeJarnette did not finish the NCAA meet last year and has fought hard to run well but has fallen back at the end of races. He is Oregon's second best returner from this meet last year (28th) behind Puskedra (fourth) with Stinson the third best (31st).

The rest of the team is mostly freshmen. 13 runners are on the Duck West Region roster (seven can run). Behind Puskedra and Stinson at the PAc-12 meet were true freshmen Jeramy Elkaim (20th), Verbizkas (23rd) and Ryan Pickering (39th). The three comprise part of the best freshmen cross country class of 2011. Verbizkas was considered the best freshman since Rupp and Solinsky before after he broke the high school record in the 2-mile by 14 seconds (8:29) and won two straight Footlocker championships. Elkaim broke 15 minutes in high school last year and Pickering was ninth at the Footlocker championships last year. Other top freshmen Chad Noelle, Matt Jablonski, Chris Brewer and Matt Melancon redshirted this year.

Among returners redshirt senior Chris Kwiatkowski would be the top choice (24th at 2010 Pac-10 meet) behind the three that ran at the NCAA meet last year but he has not finished a race since running a 13:51 indoors over 5,000 meters last year. Redshirt junior Bryce Burgess has had a lot of experience but is still trying to run to his potential after running 91st at last year's NCAA West Regionals.

Stanford (led by the 1-2 punch of all-Americans Chris Derrick and Jake Riley) and Portland (led by defending region champion Trevor Dunbar and all-American Alfred Kipchumba) are likely to take the two automatic qualifying berths. Anywhere from two to four teams could be offered one of the thirteen at-large bids (there are nine regions). Without Verbizcas someone will have to step up to help the team qualify for the NCAA meet. Behind them in the rankings are #21 UCLA, Cal Poly, Washington State, Arizona State, and Cal Berkeley.

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