Oregon wins the Pac-10 men's championship

Sunday was a glorious day for Vin Lanana's Ducks. The men surpassed expectations and nickel-and-dimed their way to a Pac-10 championship. Oregon won by the slimmest of margins with 114 points over pre-meet favorites Arizona State (111) and USC (110). In the women's competition Stanford (134 1/3) came up short against Arizona State (158).

The big story was the men's competition. For the Ducks, hope could be felt when two favorites in the Decathlon had bad days and Adam Eaton had a personal record for second in the Decathlon with 7123 points. On Saturday, momentum was initiated with the re-emergence of Tommy Skipper from a 2 ½ month injury absence and the absence of Domenik Peterson from the 400 meter start.

The loss of Peterson cut out 21 points from the Sun Devils potential score and brought ASU even with the Ducks. The Sun Devil was the top seed in the 200 (past NCAA scorer) and the second seed in the 400 (2005 West Region runner-up) plus his loss would hurt ASU's scoring potential in both relays. This loss moved them even with one of two obstacles in the Ducks path.

As the day moved along Oregon qualified everyone that they needed to qualify for the finals. At the same time some Trojans didn't qualify some potential scorers like past pac-10 scorer DeSean Cunningham in the 800 meters, Sheldon Evans in the 400 hurdles, Irek Sekrearski in the 1500. Those were all small points but they add up. William Denbo did surpass Ryan Whiting of Arizona State and gave USC two extra points behind Noah Bryant's win (66-7).

Ryan Whiting's disappointment was overcome by Matt Turner upsetting defending Pac-10 champion Norris Frederick in the Long Jump (25-8 ¾ to 24-6 ¼). Kevin Davis of California ran a 15 second personal record behind four-time Pac-10 champion Aaron Aguayo (8:36.42) from ASU. Second seeded Kyle Alcorn finished third, dropping two more potential points for the Sun Devils.

Tommy Skipper opened at 5.25 meters, 17-2 ¾ and cleared by at least a foot on his first attempt, the same as top collegiate freshman Scott Roth of Washington, 2006 Pac-10 runner-up Mike Landers of UCLA, and 2006 Pac-10 bronze medallist Graeme Hoste of Stanford. None of the four had missed a height. Skipper passed the next height, partly because he had started lower than he normally does and partly because of a lack of conditioning.

Roth and Hoste had a miss at 5.35 m, 17-6 ½ but Landers had no misses still. Roth, Landers and Hoste miss on their first attempt at 5.45m, 17-10 ½ (second best collegiate vault this year) and Skipper clears on his first attempt. Roth clears on his second attempt and Landers and Hoste aren't able to clear. At 5.55 meters, 18-2 ½ (what would be the top mark collegiately ahead of Brad Gelbauer's 5.51 meters) Skipper showed how much he has missed his training. None of his attempts were very good. Roth looked in over-his-head at the height. Skipper won by not having a miss on any of his cleared heights.

The 10,000 meter runners were warming up and aware of the situation with Skipper. As the five Oregon runners warmed up around the track there was discussion about their situation and excitement around the re-appearance and win by Skipper. In the race the Stanford took out the pace in 70 seconds, 29:10 pace. NCAA seventh placer in the Steeplechase, Jonathon Pierce of Stanford, has had health issues and was not running in his specialty but instead pacing his teammates Brett Gotcher (probably qualified for the NCAA meet) and Hari Mix (who needed a qualifying time).

For ten laps the three Stanford runners led Rupp and the four other Ducks sat in the back of 11 runners (12 runners total). Werhane fell off the back of the pack on lap 11 but the other Ducks held position. On the 15th lap Pierce dropped out, leaving ten and Rupp moved into second on lap 16. On the 17th lap there were seven in the front pack with freshman Kenny Klotz of Oregon dropping back with Mike Sayenko of Washington for eighth and ninth. Rupp took off with four laps to go and no one caught him. Each of the Oregon runners outsprinted one runner each and Oregon finished First, third, sixth and eighth for 20 points. That put the Ducks in a tie with Arizona for first at 47 points.

That night Vin commented that the top schools, ASU and USC, did not consider them a threat yet. In the morning's Javelin, Ryan Brandel of Oregon fell behind the first round pr throw of Andrew Smith of Arizona State 70.59m, 231-7 and responded with 70.67m, 231-10. He had two more throws over 230 feet and finished at 71.74m, 235-4 for his second best throw ever. ASU finished according to their seeds in second and third. The men's high jump had ASU favorite Matt Turner ready to get his second victory of the meet.

Things went downhill for ASU from there. The men's 4x100 meter relay had difficulty overcoming the loss of Domenik Peterson and finished seventh. Oregon slid into the void and moved up one spot into third in the race (40.66) behind a season best winning time by USC (39.66). In the 1500 AJ Acosta of Oregon challenged Russell Brown for much of the race but fell back to fourth with 200 meters to go. He held strong and Mike McGrath came from the back of the pack to finish fourth with Acosta fifth. Two weeks before McGrath had run a 4:10 mile at the Penn Relays, showing he had not fully recovered from his Achilles injury. He gave everything he had to finish strongly for the Ducks to help Oregon have a chance to win.

The Trojans were still a solid favorite (20+ points) but things started falling apart in the 110 meter high hurdles. The Trojans had the top two seeds. Kevin Craddock of UCLA ran an unbelievable .25 second pr to win in the second fastest time by a collegian (13.48). Kai Kelley struggled to try to catch him and knocked the 10th hurdle enough to be passed by UCLA freshman Darius Reed (13.875 to 13.800), a two point loss. Top seed Logan Taylor of USC finished fifth. USC lost eight possible points, cutting by almost half the lead over Oregon. By that time Donovan Lim of USC had no heighted and Matt Turner finished second in the high jump.

The 400 had two contestants from each of the three contenders. Prohibitive favorite Lionel Larry of USC ran an inspired race, 44.73, second fastest collegiate time, fourth in the world, third fastest ever at USC. Alex Harcourt of Washington tried to stay with him through at 21.5 first 200 meters and ended up holding up for second in 45.87, a .56 pr and third all-time for the Huskies. Marcus Dillon from Oregon stayed ahead of the rest and ran smoothly into the finish for a new pr 46.62, ninth best all-time for the Ducks. ASU's tandem of Jimmie Gordon ran a pr 46.79 for fourth and Justin Kremer ran 47.26 for a pr in sixth. Chad Barlow finished a disappointing eighth in 47.97 and Jason Price of USC did not score in ninth at 48.34 as places fifth through ninth were freshman. USC ran as expected, ASU ran well to overcome Derrik Peterson's loss (second seed) and lost just three points while they were expected to lose six, and while Oregon lost a point, essentially no difference.

Ahmad Rashad of USC ran incredibly well in the 100 (10.20) and moved to sixth all-time for the Trojans and fifth collegiately. Kelvin Love (fifth best pr) of ASU ran a pr 10.40 to pass NCAA sprint contestants with superior personal records: Justin Woods, Wopamo Osaisai, and Jaycee Robertson. He scored important points to exceed his predicted fifth place finish, and helped gain a point for the Sun Devils on the form chart. USC's Roy Alugbue stayed ahead of UCLA walk-on Brandon Smith (eighth) and a struggling Phil Alexander of Oregon (ninth) to get seventh. Later we find out that Alexander has a slightly strained hamstring that keeps him out of the 200 and the 4x400 meters. Oregon loses two points in the race and USC gains one on the form chart.

Defending Trojan Pac-10 champion Duane Solomon always goes out fast. The collegiate leader finished strongly at last year's P-10 in Eugene but today, with a ten meter lead and 200 meters to go, he ties up and defending NCAA champion Ryan Brown of Washington catches him. Third seeded Trojan and 2006 runner-up Raphael Asafo-Agyei never gets going and finishes sixth. With DeSean Cunningham not making it out of preliminaries the expected 18 points for the Trojans turns into 11 points. Now Oregon is within five points of the Trojans and slightly ahead of ASU on the projections after Andrew Wheating finishes seventh instead of an expected eighth.

Just before the start of the 800 the second flight of the hammer starts with the main contestants involved, Martin Bingisser of Washington, favorite Adam Midles from USC, defending champion Boldizsar Kocsor of UCLA, Noah Bryant of USC and Oregon's Brian Richotte. Bingisser throws a pr 66.42m, 217-11 on the second throw of the first round. Midles throws 66.15, 217-0 before a foul by Kocsor and Bryant. Richotte gets a foul before they move to the second round. Kocsor and Richotte get fair throws in the second round but Bryant doesn't and no improvements elsewhere. In the third round there are no major improvements until Kocsor throws 65.37m, 214-6 for third and Bryant ends up without a fair mark costing the Trojans four expected points. The field is passed by Brian Richotte 67.93m, 222-10 (fourth all-time Oregon). The throw is the seventh best collegiate throw and a personal best for the graduate transfer. Midles ends up third costing four more points and Richotte adds two and another pr in the sixth round (67.96m, 222-11) to put Oregon closer to USC just before the 5,000 meters.

In the meantime USC has troubles in the 400 meter hurdles with another dropped position on the last hurdle by Kai Kelley (3rd) of USC to James Fredrickson of Washington and winner Brandon Johnson of UCLA in 50.03. The surprising performance by the Husky knocks Marquis Profit of ASU down a position also into fifth. Sheldon Evans of USC never makes the final and the Trojans lose five more points, dropping them solidly behind the Ducks. In the 200 Ahmad Rashad sets another pr at 20.56 and solidly defeats Kelvin Love, Jr (20.76). Marcus Dillon of Oregon gets sixth (21.41) but Phil Alexander has to scratch. Net effect is an USC improvement by 6 points and a gain of two points by ASU, after the adjustment for Peterson, and Oregon loses a point. It is anyone's competition to win, USC and Oregon at 97, ASU at 93.

The triple jump finishes just before the 5,000 meters and there is more bad news for ASU and USC. Fifth and seventh seeded Trojans Aven Wright and Inman Breaux finish seventh and eighth and third seeded Sun Devil Matt Turner finishes sixth behind winner Michael Johnson of UCLA, 15.65m 51-4 ¼. The score is now USC with 100 points, Oregon with 97 and ASU with 96 and the Trojans have no 5,000 meter runners, but there are eight from Oregon and three from ASU.

Galen Rupp is again on the spot. A solid run by him and his group can give them the championship if they can score enough points to win or give the 4x400 relay enough space to reduce the pressure on the pressure on the relay team without its second best runner, Phil Alexander. Chris Winter of Oregon takes out the early lead with Rupp on his shoulder, the Ghebray brothers (Yosef and Giliat), Obed Mutanya, and the two Sun Devils, Aaron Aguayo and Kyle Alcorn nearby and the Ducks were trailing in the but in the pack like in the 10,000 meters.

On the fifth lap the group dropped from a 69 (Winter's last lap pushing the pace) on lap four to 66.8 to spread the group out. A 69 on lap six. 68.6 on lap seven and there are just ten runners in the group with Rupp near the lead and Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott and Jonathon Thomas near the back and the two Sun Devils. On the ninth lap Thomas falls back. And on the tenth lap Mutanya takes it out in front of Rupp, Aguayo and Jacob Gomez of Stanford (formerly from Klamath Union HS). With 800 meters to go Rupp takes off (12:00) with Mutanya right behind him and Aguayo can't keep up. A 60.6 lap by Rupp does not shake Mutanya but a little burst by Rupp leaves a gap with 300 to go. Mutanya responds the next 100 and catches Galen but Galen responds and accelerates away with a 61.4 last lap and wins in 14:02.00 to Obed Mutanya's 14:04.08. Aguayo keeps a good sprint and finishes at 14:06.00 for third for the Sun Devils. In the back Kiptoo-Biwott has been in eighth but with 200 to go he puts in a big sprint and passes Garret Heath of Stanford (eighth in 14:22.33) and almost catches Kyle Alcorn of ASU (14:17.02 to 14:16.15 by Alcorn).

The twelve points by the Ducks and nine points by the Sun Devils put the score at Oregon 109, Arizona State 105, and USC 100. In every scenario, as long as Oregon stays within two positions of Arizona State, Oregon will win the meet or at least tie for the win. Third seeded Arizona State is without second seeded 400 meter runner Domenik Peterson and fifth seeded Oregon is missing Phil Alexander but seeds don't matter as much when the title is on the line.

On the opening leg USC moves to the front and is never passed. Oregon's Ashton Eaton runs a personal record 48.1 for fifth behind open Pac-10 400 sixth placer Justin Kremer's 47.7 for third sandwiching UCLA in fourth. Marquis Profit, third seeded in the 400 hurdles (finished ninth) was second leg for ASU and Chad Barlow of Oregon carried the stick for Oregon. A strong finish by Barlow in 47.2 closed part of the gap to ASU but they stayed in third and fifth.

Kelvin Love of ASU had done his part in replacing the lost points of Derek Peterson by getting runner-up spots in the 100 and 200 and would try to once again to substitute directly for Derek Peterson on the relay. Love's pr is 48.29 and Peterson's pr is 45.15. Phil Alexander had run 47.16 this year and his replacement, Freshman Zach Ancell not entered in an open event, had run 49.39 this year. On the third leg of the relay Zach stayed on the inside of his lane and ran 48.5 and lost just a yard or two to Love and positions did not change with UCLA still in fourth, two meters ahead of Oregon. On the anchor leg USC and Washington are still seven meters ahead of ASU. The anchor leg for the Sun Devils, 400 fourth placer Jimmie Gordon must pass Washington and hope that Oregon falls back. Pac-10 third placer Marcus Dillon of Oregon has to at least hold position. Dillon runs down the UCLA anchor with a 46.1 leg and Gordon can't catch Washington.

This was a total team effort with clutch performances all-around. Some surprises (Skipper, Richotte and Ancell) and no mistakes. The athlete of the meet was Galen Rupp with his double in the 5k and 10k runs, 15,000 meters of tough racing in two days. Wins by Brandel and Richotte against tough competition by contenders ASU and USC were also key. A trophy at the NCAA meet is possible, we will see in two weeks at the West Regional in Eugene whether this is a reality. Obviously, no one will count the Ducks out.

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