Ducks are in the hunt for a championship!!

The West Regionals held in Eugene was what it was supposed to be, an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA meet in Sacramento. Expectations were exceeded in some events (men's relays) but mostly Oregon got exactly what they wanted by qualifying everyone that had a good shot of making the trip in two weeks for the NCAA meet.

What this meet did do for the Oregon men was give hope to the possibility that a little more than two weeks ago seemed unreachable, an NCAA trophy (top four finish). Oregon has not finished in the top four at the NCAA meet since 1991 (third), where just like at the meet in two weeks, points will come from many different competitors in many different events. In 1991 Oregon had two scorers in the Decathlon, a runner-up finish for Scott McGee in the hammer, Art Skipper's third (Tommy's older brother) in the Javelin, a surprise second by Bob Gray in the high hurdles, and two steeplechasers. That team scored 36 points for third place.

This year's team will rely heavily on fewer expected scorers (four compared to eight in 1991) but that could balloon if there are some breakthrough performances by talented individuals and relays. Prohibitive NCAA 10,000 meter favorite Galen Rupp has indicated at the Cardinal Invite and Pac-10 meet that he wants to double but he has a big schedule in front of him after running heats of the 5,000 meters on Wednesday in Sacramento, followed by the 10k final on Thursday night and the 5,000 meter final on Friday. His 1:59.4 final 800 and 3:01.7 final 1200 at the West Regional meet indicate he could successfully win both at the NCAA meet (he will be third seeded). Rupp was happy to win but unfortunately none of the other five Oregon entrants qualified for the NCAA meet, "It was good to win, but it was bittersweet. The goal was to get three Oregon guys qualified to Nationals. The guys didn't have a kick today.. We are still considering my options for Nationals- 5,000, 10,000 or both." That is 20 potential points if he runs both races.

Tommy Skipper not only successfully returned from injury at the Pac-10 meet to win, but he added a personal best (and school record, Pac-10 record and number six all-time NCAA) clearance of 5.80 meters, 19-0 ¼ for the West Region championship and collegiate leader by nearly ten inches. He enjoyed his final performance in a Duck uniform, "It was emotionally (sic) today as I close out my Oregon career. I appreciate all of the Oregon fans and everything that they have done for me during my time here. The community is what makes Oregon track great. This is the best place I have ever jumped." A healthy Skipper (they were working on his legs on a side runway of this meet) would be a prohibitive favorite for his fifth NCAA championship. With limited practice time he is still a very solid favorite. Another ten points and that makes 30.

Based on consistent high level performances by two throwers, Ryan Brandel in the Javelin and Brian Richotte in the hammer, both throwers are on track to score well in their events. Ryan, the senior who transferred from Sacramento State in 2006, threw 238-0 at the ASU invite and followed that up with a 235-4 foot throw at the Pac-10 meet to again defeat the highly competitive ASU throwers and others from the Pac-10. This weekend Brandel threw far enough to qualify (second place at 218-3) for the NCAA meet behind Ari Borjas' (CPSLO) season best throw of 236-5 after he heavily trained all this week to peak for the NCAA meet. He is ranked fourth collegiately.

Eighth ranked Brian Richotte (Senior transfer from Radford) has thrown over 221 (221-6 on Saturday) feet each of his last two competitions to defeat difficult Pac-10 competition two weeks ago that were joined by highly ranked regional throwers this week (fifth ranked Adam Midles of USC was third and sixth ranked David Paul of E Washington finished fifth). The top regional mark this weekend was by Cory Martin of Auburn (Auburn is expected to get third at the NCAA meet) who threw 226-10 at the East regional meet and Nick Owens won the Mideast Region at 223-0 feet.

Richotte has a chance to win with his new technique that he now seems to be getting comfortable with. Although he did not make the NCAA meet in 2006, he had the sixth best collegiate throw and defeated Nick Owens in the Georgia Tech Invite (218-3 for third to 218-0 for fourth) and he beat Mark Milleville of Southern Illinois in the Sea Ray Relays (215-10 to 212-3).

Brian seems to be over the issues that kept him from making the NCAA meet last year when he finished 13th one spot out of the final (57.15m, 187-6), "I started a little rough and I definitely had last year's regional problems in my head. Once I knew that I locked up a 12th place finish I kind of went after it. It was a relief when I knew that I had qualified for Sacramento. I think that you have to be able to win the Pac-10 and the Western regional to have a chance to win the NCAAs. This is a good time of year to be throwing my best." The two senior transfer throwers could combine for 10 or more points making it possible for Oregon to have 40 points with these four competitors.

In the 1500 meters we have an interesting situation for the two Ducks. Mike McGrath and Andrew Acosta would have had to run 3:42.35 (14th best collegiate time) or better to guarantee a position in the NCAA meet because three of the four fastest collegiate runners entered in their regional meets this weekend did not finish in the top five in their regions including David Torrence of Cal who finished 11th in the West Region behind ninth place Andrew Acosta of Oregon. Acosta had a rough day with blisters on both feet, "My spikes didn't fit, so I had to wear a thirteen and fourteen size spike." McGrath kicked in for fifth behind the blazing speed of Lopez Lomong of Northern Arizona (3:44.18) and Russell Brown of Stanford (3:44.39) who finished in 38.3 for the last 300 and 53.1 for the last 400 (McGrath 54.7).

As a result of these performances Acosta becomes the number 25 competitor and it will be up to the NCAA committee whether they will take 24 or 25 (or 26) competitors. Most likely they will take Acosta. In the East Region Tom Lancashire of Florida State, predicted for fifth in the 1500, did not make it to the NCAA meet unless someone declares out of the meet from the East region. Will Denbo of USC (predicted for fourth at the NCAA meet) finished eighth behind NCAA leader and teammate Noah Bryant (20.25m, 66-5 ¼) but will probably qualify due to having the seventh best mark going into this weekend. Last year he fouled out of the NCAA meet and has never placed. Teammate Kai Kelly has also never made the NCAA final but after performing poorly at the Pac-10 meet won at the West Regional 110 hurdles. Obviously there are points that can be lost for Oregon and other teams and points that can be gained.

Oregon's relays are making it an expectation that they make the NCAAs although they had to surpass expectations to get in the top three to qualify for the NCAA meet. This is the third consecutive year for the 4x100 meter relay (seventh seed in the region) and the fifth consecutive year for the 4x400 meter relay (fifth seed). A young relay was able to perform when one of its leaders, Phil Alexander, returned from a strained hamstring at the Pac-10 meet.

Oregon has two very talented newcomers, Ashton Eaton and Marcus Dillon. Decathlete Ashton Eaton probably won't land a spot in the Decathlon after he was runner-up in the Pac-10 meet but jumped a pr 7.47m, 24-6 ¼ to make it to Sacramento in the long jump. Marcus Dillon has started to show the talent he exhibited in high school with two Louisiana state championships and a second at the national Junior College championships from three years ago. After a two year hiatus from running (a campus mistake and Hurricane Katrina) he started to gain confidence in himself at the Oregon Invite when he ran a 46.2 anchor leg and defeated nine-time Duck All-American Matt Scherer of Oregon Track Club.

The Oregon Invite was a big meet for the team's confidence. Brian Richotte had finished third at the Pepsi Invite behind Adam Midles of USC and Martin Bingisser of Washington but defeated fifth ranked David Paul (218-8 to 211-6) in a season best performance. Dillon ran a personal best in the 200 (21.30 into .8 m/s headwind), and Galen Rupp started to regain his confidence lost after the illness last year.

At the time Rupp was reflective about the travails of the past year and the concerns he had about facing four time NCAA champion Chris Solinsky, "I had a lot of doubts about today in my mind, I knew they were going to be there but I just try my best to keep fighting through them. My main focus is just on myself during the race, and it was a good race. Solinsky's proven himself a great competitor, so I'm fortunate to come away with the win. It's been a long time since I've had a good solid race like this. Last year I was sick all the time and dealing with health issues, but I knew eventually I'd make it back I just had to work hard." Rupp ran his pr 13:30.49 by running down Solinsky in the homestretch after falling back 15 meters.

The Ducks can score 40 points and at least get fourth if not better depending on the breaks they may catch and disappointing results by Florida State, LSU, and Auburn, all teams ranked ahead of the Ducks.

eDuck Top Stories