One foot from victory

One foot from victory, that is all it would have taken for the Oregon women to win the Pepsi Team Invitational. Feet, inches, weary athletes and an actual foot were the difference. After the meet was over, all the officials, fans and competitors were gone and there was one person walking the last 100 meters to the finish line. She knew she could have been the difference.

For those able to compete at the Pepsi Team Invite it was great competition from the start as an expected tight team competition turned out as advertised with Minnesota coming from behind in the last event to win with 193 points to 192 for Oregon and 181 for Penn State (UW had 78 points).

The women's javelin started the meet and was better than advertised. Collegiate leader Rachel Yurkovich of Oregon faced off against fellow all-American Minnesota's Ruby Radocaj (fifth in the 2006 US Championships) and Penn State's Heidi Nadeau (11th at the 2007 NCAA championships). Yurkovich was the leader twice during the competition and was passed immediately by Radocaj. Radocaj finished at 57.15 meters, 187-6, the eighth best throw (new javelin) ever by a collegian. Yurkovich threw 56.06m, 183-11, for her season best and her first loss to high school or collegiate competition at Hayward Field.

Minnesota had another huge performance in the 3,000 meter steeplechase by Jamie Cheever, who caught her Big 10 rival, Bridget Franek of Penn State, with a lap to go in the race. She ran a personal record of 10:11.33 to Franek's outdoor debut of 10:12.27 (Penn State's first meet was cancelled due to weather). Senior Emily Mathis ran a pr and regional qualifying time of 10:48.23 (fourth on the UO all-time list) and Freshman Claire Michel debuted in the steeple at 10:57.86 (sixth on the list).

Oregon's stellar freshman class tried to provide assistance across the board to boost the Ducks chances at victory. Oregon's heptathletes competed in many events to help the team cause and Freshman Brianne Thiessen was obviously worn down by her NCAA automatic qualifying performance (5575 points) last weekend. Horizontal jumps favorite Jameesha Youngblood seemed to be affected by her added duty in both relays and the weather. She finished second in both jumps with marks (19-5 ¼ long jump and 40-3 ¼ triple jump) more than 1 ½ feet below her best in each event and finished just behind Minnesota competitors in each event, Christin Kingley jumped 19-7 and Anna Arciszewska jumped 40-8 ¾. Indoor NCAA scorer and fellow Freshman Melissa Gergel still has not made her outdoor debut in the Pole Vault due to a hamstring injury. Unfortunately only one duck cleared a height, Freshman Jordan Roskelley, 12-1 ½ good for fourth place points.

Efforts on the track were more generously rewarded. The young Ducks had a surprise win in the 4x100 meter relay (46.39 better than last year's season best) as both Minnesota and Penn State had difficulty with the first exchange and seemingly both should or could have been disqualified. The 1500 meters was very important for Oregon fortunes. Zoe Nelson sacrificed herself for the team by making sure the pace was fast. Freshman cross country all-american Alexandra Kosinski was right behind in second and Nicole Blood was hovering on the line between lanes one and two with Gabrielle Anderson of Minnesota and recent NCAA indoor mile fifth place finisher Amanda Miller of Washington. At 1000 meters Kosinski had taken the lead and was followed by Miller, Anderson, and Blood. With one lap to go Kosinski took off and Blood challenged Miller just off her shoulder. With 100 meters to go Blood finally passes Miller. Kosinski ran the final lap in 65 seconds and finished in 4:19.98, a lifetime best and NCAA regional qualifier. Blood finished in 4:20.86, also a lifetime best, and Miller ran 4:21.26, both regional qualifiers. Blood came back later in the 5,000 meters. Once again a Duck, Sarah Pearson, pushed the pace to separate the Ducks from Minnesota and Penn State competitors. Blood and Katie Follett of Washington followed. Blood and Follett passed Pearson with a couple of laps to go. Blood passed Follett and won in a lifetime best 16:16.58 to 16:22.78.

Megan Maloney won the hammer (176-9) and Lucy Cridland was sixth at 140-6, just behind Amanda Solberg of Minnesota who threw 142-0 for fifth. Ducks Brianne Thiesen and Jasmine Kelly of Oregon lost on misses to NCAA all-American Heptathlete Liz Rohrig of Minnesota (5-5 3/4).

Last year's NCAA runner-up Shana Cox of Penn State held off Keshia Baker's outdoor pr (53.30 to 53.62), came back later to win the 200 in 23.73 and contributed to the winning 4x400 meter relay (3:37.52 to Oregon's 3:40.59). NCAA all-American Aleesha Barber ran a near meet record time in the 100 hurdles (13.69) and caught Kasey Harwood of Oregon at the end in the 400 hurdles (60.02 to 60.09). 2006 NCAA indoor champion Heather Dorniden of Minnesota held off the challenge of Zoe Buckman (2:06.07 to 2:07.39) in the 800.

The final event was the women's discus. Oregon was ahead of Minnesota by eight points after the completion of the 4x400 meter relay. The top seed in the event was Penn State's Emma Schmelzer who had already upset Minnesota all-American Liz Podominick in the Shot Put. Based on 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring Minnesota had to go 1-2 in the event and hope that Oregon didn't score at least 9 points. Podominick, Schmelzer, Hannah Studt of Minnesota, and Lucy Cridland of Oregon were the top four with Megan Maloney a score adjusted seventh. In the fifth round Podominick stretched out her lead to 49.29 meters, 161-8 and the team score was tied. In the sixth round Cridland moved into third with a season best 46.03 meters, 151-0 and Oregon regained the team lead. Studt threw 47.50m 155-10 to move into second. Oregon needed Schmelzer to pass Studt to get a tie in the team race. Schmelzer had her best throw and just missed passing Studt with a throw of 47.26m 155-1.

Minnesota won by one point. Injuries slowed Oregon in this meet. Unfortunately Rebecca Noble was forced to watch from the sidelines with a foot healing from surgery. She would certainly have wanted to compete on a day her team needed her. Her record against Dorniden in the 800 is 2-2. Just Noble running and getting a win or second would have tied or won the meet and if she had run in the 4x400 meter relay Oregon would have had a better shot at winning the race. She is running again but it will take her more training to get a qualifying mark. For now she can imagine what it feels like to race in front of the Hayward Field crowd as she walks down the track.

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