NCAA XCountry Preview (Women)

This cross country season has been a work in progress for the Oregon Ducks women's team. The final product will be seen at Monday's NCAA championships in Terra Haute, Indiana and the women run at 10:08 PST (Comcast 32). Every meet has seen improvements and disappointments.

The Oregon women have a mix of experience and inexperience. Both the men and women are led by underclassmen. What has become clear is that freshmen Jordan Hasay has been a sensation this year like sophomore Luke Puskedra was last year for the men as a freshman. She has been Oregon's #1 runner in two of Oregon's four full team races. Jordan has not won a race yet but at the same time has yet to race against a team that has not been ranked in the top three in the collegiate rankings this year. Director of Track and Field Vin Lananna has been impressed with her development as she clearly has improved in each race and is a contender to finish in the top five at the NCAA meet. She has been similar to the team.

"The team has dedicated themselves to getting better every week, " Lananna said before leaving for Terra Haute. "I think they have done that."

The two-time (2007 and 2008) NCAA runner-up women's team still has two two-time cross country all-Americans that have switched off as Oregon's top runner the last two years, senior Nicole Blood was eighth overall in 2007 and junior Alex Kosinski was eighth in 2008. Neither has finished lower than 13th the last two years. Blood became the first Duck to take the top position at the Pac-10 cross country meet since 1992 (Nicole Woodard was the last of six titles in seven years by a Duck) and followed that with a fifth place finish at the West Regional meet. Blood commented on this being her last cross country race and that she can't put too much pressure on herself. It is going to be emotional after the race, but she "can't treat it as being some race completely different than any other."

Kosinski won the NCAA West Regional title last year (first time for a Duck in 14 years) but has been working to recover from the flu which hampered her (77th place) at the pre-Nationals race October 17th. At the Pac-10 meet she was ninth and at the West Regional meet she was eighth. Her performance has reflected the team, "every race we have been getting stronger and stronger."

The biggest question for the women's team was whether two other runners (score is computed by adding the top five finisher's places from each team) could finish high enough for the team to win the NCAA title or to trophy. Last year three seniors transferred to Oregon to run cross country and track and helped the team finish second. This year two Oregon high school products have improved significantly and will likely be Oregon's fourth and fifth runners. Redshirt sophomore Claire Michel (Clackamas high school) surprised the track world by making the final of the NCAA steeplechase and surprising those around the country with her strong finishes in cross country. She has finished as Oregon's #3 runner once (pre-Nationals) and #4 runner twice (Bill Dellinger and Pac-10). A slow start left her as the #5 runner at the West Regionals but she will likely not make that mistake again. Senior Lauren Zaludek from Elmira has finished one spot ahead of Michel three times this year (Pre's Trail, Dellinger, and West Region) as the two push each other in some of their races. Another close finish with Michel will help the Ducks get a trophy and possibly push them to a title. The #6 and #7 runner will come from a pool of sophomore Bronwyn Crossman (#5 at Pac-10), freshman Anne Kesselring (#6 at Pac-10), senior cross country all-American (2007) Zoe Buckman (#6 at West Region), and freshman Henley high school product Taylor Wallace (#6 at Pre-National).

Oregon's competition for a trophy (top-four finish) will be defending champion Washington, Bill Dellinger Invite champion Villanova, South Region champion Florida, and Princeton. Even though the Oregon women have three runners that can run at the front of the pack along with first five of Washington (Pac-10 and West Region) and Villanova (Bill Dellinger), those three would have to dominate those two team's top five to get a championship.

The West Regional meet went out slow (5:45 first mile) and runners after the top three Ducks were too far back. Blood commented the lesson that was learned was that, Washington's 4,5, and 6 runners were near the front and the Duck runners learned from that. She indicated at nationals, "Everyone will go out where they are supposed to be."

"I think Washington is not going to be our only focus," Blood said, "We just have got to shoot for top three.

"We cannot just look for purple," concluded Blood.

Injuries and pressure can affect those teams but that cannot be counted on.

Washington and Villanova are likely to wage a tremendous battle up front. Even though Washington dominated last year, Villanova has looked like Washington in the results so far this season. Villanova swept the top five positions at the Heps meet and scored a national best 23 in winning the Mid-Atlantic regional meet (over third ranked Princeton). Washington won the pre-national meet (dominating Princeton, 59 to the third place score of 126).

Florida is similar to Oregon with three top runners running at the front and two others who must run well to help them trophy. Princeton has had runners just off the lead packs of their races and it will come down to the fourth and fifth best runners on each team to determine the team order.

"Hopefully members four through seven can position themselves in the pack and move up the last 1,000 (meters)," Blood commented as those teammates are essential to success,

Colorado and Florida State beat an illness ravaged Duck squad at the pre-National meet and will likely run better at the NCAA meet with the two favorites, Jenny Barringer of Colorado and Susan Kuiken of Florida State, battling for the individual title and lowest individual point scores.

In an upset pick I will go with Villanova, Washington, Oregon, and Florida for the trophies with a great battle up front and spirited battle among five teams for the other two trophies. The Ducks goal is top-three but the team is realistic.

"If everyone ran 100% and we didn't finish top-three," Kosinski said before the race."We won't be too upset."

Lananna feels good going into the NCAA meet.

"I think the Ducks are a good, solid team," said Lananna.

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