NCAA Preview

Oregon's NCAA individual title hopes rest with a few young athletes. The Ducks have many performers that need experience for next year when there is an opportunity for the men to win a title and the women to get a trophy. This year there are some remarkable stories of athletes that are fully exhibiting their potential at young ages.

The biggest story for the Ducks is the nine meet winning streak of sophomore middle distance runner Andrew Wheating. On Tuesday he was awarded by the West Region coaches the West Region track athlete of the year. The toughest part for many athletes at this level is the pressure of the competition but a maybe larger issue is the succession of three high-level races over four days.

If Wheating is able to conserve his energy over the first two rounds of the 800 meters, starting Wednesday, and stay within one second of the leaders with 200 meters to go he will win the race. There are no phenoms to worry about. Senior Duane Solomon of USC was able to negotiate high-level US championship races last year to get third in a personal record of 1:45.69 and he will try to get his first NCAA championship. Junior Jacob Hernandez of Texas has not had a great history in this meet but ran 1:45.68 at the Midwest Regional and has the top collegiate time this year.

Junior Kara Patterson of Purdue threw the Javelin 61.56 meters (m), 202-0 (a 17 foot pr), at the Big-10 championships and now has joined American Record holder Kim Kreiner as one of two throwers with the Olympic A standard (need A standard to have more than one competitor at the Olympic Games). Two weeks ago at the Mideast regional she threw 174-7 putting into question whether she can reach that mark again. Junior Rachel Yurkovich of Oregon has thrown 58.25m, 191-1, but has been consistently over 180-0 all year. If she gets an early qualifying throw on Thursday and is able to not push her sore shoulder she is likely to win the championship.

Sophomore Nicole Blood will face for the second time over 5,000 meters this year the six-time NCAA champion, Junior Sally Kipyego. Earlier this season Kipyego (15:11.88) beat Blood by nearly 32 seconds (15:43.82) in a fast race at the Mount SAC relays that puts her just four seconds off the collegiate record of Cathy Branta (15:07.56). Junior Tasmin Fanning of Virginia Tech ran 15:47.90 all by herself. I predict that Blood will run third of fourth unless she tries to go too fast early in the race like she did at the indoor 3,000 meter race.

The heptathlon will have two Ducks, Freshman Brianne Thiesen and Junior Kalindra McFadden. Thiesen has PR'd by 352 points to move to second on the all-time Oregon list and third among collegians this year. Her ability to perform in big meets make her a solid favorite for second or third at the NCAA meet to 6x NCAA champion Senior Jacquelyn Johnson of Arizona State, second all-time among collegians.

Sophomore Ashton Eaton is ranked fourth (7792) collegially behind more experienced competitors. Jangy Addy of Tennessee leads the collegiate rankings with a personal best of 8010 from the SEC meet this year. Eaton's mark in Sacramento and Pac-10 championship show that he is a tough competitor. It is likely he will finish second to fourth.

Sophomore AJ Acosta will have a lot of tight competition in the 1,500 meters. Headlining the field is three-time NCAA champion Lyle Manzano of Texas. The competition is very close and Acosta has raced very well against high level competition. He should finish anywhere from second to fourth

Sophomore Zoe Buckman had difficulty last year running during the spring season after just finishing the Australian season. In her second year she has adjusted well and has a personal record. She was second at the Pac-10 meet and West Regional meet to defending collegiate and US champion Alysia Johnson of Cal. She has shown a great sense of competitiveness and will likely finished anywhere from second to fourth.

The men's 4x400 meter relay is ranked ninth and has a good chance to score. Part of that relay is Senior Phil Alexander who will also run the open 200 meters. Junior Chris Winter will gain valuable experience in the steeple, as will Senior Carlos Truillo in the 5,000m and the twin freshman 10,000 meter running Mercado brothers (Danny and Diego). The throwers will be represented by Freshman Jordan Stray and Senior Colin Veldman in the hammer throw and Sophomore Alex Wollff and junior Mike Simmons in the men's javelin.

The women will have inexperienced youngsters and veterans trying to take advantage of a last chance. Sophomore Pac-10 champion Keshia Baker should enjoy an extension to her collegiate season and gain experience for the future. Freshman Alex Kosinski will run in the 1,500 meters. Seniors Sara Pearson and Kasey Harwood will compete in the 5,000 meters and 400 hurdles respectively. Junior Kalindra McFadden will try to improve on her first attempt in the Heptathlon at the NCAA meet in 2006.

The men and women should have a great meet. The men will likely score 20 points for the fifth straight year. The women may score 30 points.

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