Track Seeing Results in Recruiting Classes

Four-star athletes have emerged for Oregon this fall and winter. Oregon's top-ranked recruiting classes the last couple of years have reaped the fruit of a men's NCAA cross country championship and a runner-up finish for the women. The young athletes that have been recruited have developed on the field and on the track.

Three sophomores are the first or second seed at the NCAA indoor meet; AJ Acosta is #1 in the mile, Nicole Blood is #2 in the 3,000 meters, and Ashton Eaton is ranked second in the Heptathlon. These three plus freshman Alexandra Kosinski (eighth seed) in the mile will hold the banner of the Oregon track program in the wake of the redshirting of eight time all-American Galen Rupp, the graduation of five time NCAA champion Tommy Skipper and the injury redshirt of 2006 NCAA 800 champion Rebecca Noble.

The men won their first ever indoor Mountain Pacific Championship (eight of nine Pac-10 teams participate and two Big West teams) in the 16 year history of the meet and the women improved significantly from last year's seventh place finish with a fourth place finish. Junior Derrick Jones won the 60 meter dash and Sophomore Andrew Wheating won the 800. Top Oregon athletes focused on alternative events and were spread throughout to help the team win. Ashton Eaton finished third in the MPSF long jump with a new personal record of 7.70 meters, 25-3 and now is third all-time indoors for the Ducks. AJ Acosta took the weekend off and at the last chance meet ran the second fastest collegiate mile time of the year with a school record 3:58.52.

Ashton Eaton has become the leader of the team, along with Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott. Last year he was second in the Pac-10 Decathlon and made the NCAA meet in the Long Jump. This year he has improved in every event, and the largest improvement is by two feet in the Pole Vault (14-11). His biggest competition is Raven Cepeda of Northern Iowa, the sixth place finisher outdoors last year and third indoors who leads the list (5906 to 5859 for Eaton) and Jangy Addy of Tennessee who was third in the outdoor meet last year and ranks third indoors with a best mark of 5836.

AJ Acosta, the two time US junior champion, will face the defending champion Lyle Manzano of Texas (also 2005 outdoor champion) who has a pr of 3:37.13 in the 1500 and his ninth ranked Duck teammate Mike McGrath. The men's 4x400 meter relay (3:07.13) is ranked seventh and just .65 seconds from the top time held by Florida at 3:06.48. The Distance Medley relay (9:34.06) is ranked eighth and their season bests is less than four seconds from the second best time of Arkansas (9:30.08). All four members, Mike McGrath, Chad Barlow, Andrew Wheating and Matt Centrowitz (likely to replace Acosta) are provisionally qualified in their individual events. The oddest portion of the relay is the 1200 meters. It is hard to gauge pace-wise and could reap bigger benefits to a cagey racer like the Senior McGrath, a top collegiate racer in the 800 and 1600 meters.

Nicole Blood has followed up her NCAA 5,000 meter final appearance with the top performance by a Pac 10 runner at the NCAA championships, eighth. Blood and Alexandra Kosinski led Oregon to second at the Pac 10, West Region, and NCAA championship. Blood is one of the favorites as the second seed in the 3k and the eighth seeded Distance Medley team. Kosinski, Zoe Buckman, and Keshia Baker will join Blood on the relay team. In the 3,000 meters she faces the top three finishers in last year's outdoor 1500, Brie Felnagle, Susan Kuijken, and list leader Arianna Lambie. Also running is five-time NCAA champion Sally Kipyego.

Alexandra Kosinski is just one of two freshman in a distance race. Her performance during the cross country season, 13th in the NCAA meet and nearly 23 seconds faster than any other freshman, surpassed any of her previous cross country performances while in high school. Several runners that beat her at the Foot Locker cross country championships lost to her at the NCAA championships. She set the high school 1600 national record at 4:38.15 but her season was cut short due to a plantar fascitis. She won the MPSF mile championship in 4:39.54 and will run at that race at nationals. Most of her top competition is just competing in the 3,000 meters.

Another freshman Melissa Gergel is the 11th seed in the pole vault. She has had three meets over 13 feet and has pr'd at 4.14m, 13-7 when she was runner-up at the MPSF championship. The two-time National Junior Olympic Champion has tremendous untapped talent. Her old pr was 13-2 ¼ from the 2006 Junior Olympic meet.

The 11 points scored by the men in 2007 and the nine scored by the women will likely be surpassed by this young group of athletes. The men could reach the 20 point barrier that they surpassed in 2005 and 2006 and the women could surpass their best point total since 1996 (18) with more than the 13 points scored in 2003.

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