Duck's last NCAA outdoor track championship

The 1984 NCAA championships in Eugene was a disappointing meet for the Oregon women. Here was a chance for a tremendous women's track team under Coach Tom Heinonen to shine in front of the Hayward Field crowd for the first time while Oregon had more than a couple of years (since 1977) to offer scholarships. They finished fourth but made ammends in 1985.

That was just after the rules were defined about how the country would interpret Title IX (1972). In 1977 the rules were finally defined and athletic departments started to offer scholarships. Some schools like UCLA had jumped the gun under women's athletic director Judith Holland and brought in some great athletes. Florida State and Tennessee had very strong teams too.

It all started for coach Tom Heinonen in 1975. In the 60s and 70s there were women's teams but they were taught by physical education students and teachers. In 1972 Oregon took a team to the NCWSA meet, and in 1974 the first recorded AIAW all-American award was awarded to Maryl Barker for finishing sixth in the mile. In 1974 when Tom came to the University of Oregon in 1975 he was a graduate student in Physical Education and coaching was part of his FTE. In 1975 Oregon started a run of top-seven finishes at the AIAW national championships in cross country.

Tom had a tuition waiver and $2,000 to be the cross country coach and assistant track coach. The next year he became head coach. Then started his mobile office that moved all over Gerlinger Hall every year. He shared this office with three others including Oregon women's basketball coach Elwin Heiny.

When the women's teams finally became a part of the athletic department in 1977 he was able to offer his first scholarships. Mark Stream was in charge of sprinters, jumpers and hepathletes and they signed Debbie Adams and Melanie Batiste. They paid immediate dividends and won the NCWSA sprints in 1978 and led the Ducks to their first team title. Throws coach Scott Irving also started as a graduate assistant after being a javelin thrower at Willamette University The next year they had their first true recruiting class. The big year for the Ducks was in 1979 when they picked a series of Oregon state track champions that now populate the Oregon and collegiate record books.

As a high school senior Leann Warren shocked the country with her surprising defeat of Mary Decker in the 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic. She and state champion javelin thrower Sally Harmon were taken to the US junior meet in Bloomington, Indiana by Heinonen and Stream (AIAW rules allowed for that) and both performed well with Warren running a US junior record 2:03.02 to win. Eryn Forbes was the name on the team with cache with the city of Portland. She had run an indoor 1,500 meters in 4:24 as an eighth grader and made the US senior cross country team as a 14 and the next year as a 15 year-old. She was not allowed to run at 14 because of rules at the time. They also picked up 1976 Ghanan Olympian sprinter Grace Bakari.

The Ducks dominated the NCWSA conference meet with 244 points and won 13 events. In 1979 Oregon had finished second in the AIAW mile relay, 3:41.76, and in 1980 they added two-time Oregon state champion Leann Warren and Grace Bakari. They were added to 1979 hold-overs Batiste and Rhonda Massey and won in 3:37.44 at the AIAW meet. Warren finished second in the 800 meters to Delisa Walton of Tennessee (nine-time collegiate champion and fifth in the 1988 Olympics) in 2:04.88 to 2:04.99 and Bakari was sixth in the 400 meters.

At the 1980 Olympic Trials several Ducks competed but Warren became a darling of Eugene after a fast close got her third at 4:15.16 after she finished fifth in the 800 meters (2:02.80). She wouldn't go to the Olympics due to the boycott but she also needed to run 4:10 to qualify.

In 1981 the young Oregon-raised Ducks really blossomed and several new out-of state recruits helped push the team further. Quenna Beasley came from Pasco, Washington, Calgary track club member Ranza Clark just showed up on campus during spring break for the Calgary Spartans, Lena Fritzon came from Sweden to sprint, Lisa O'Dea from Australia walked-on in 1980 after running at a community college and became a distance runner in the fall of 1980, and Lisa Nicholson was a star at Oregon A high school competition and immediately contributed to the hurdles. Kris Costello, Jeanne Borchardt, and Lexie Miller started advancing and contributing to bigger meets.

Forbes became a distance running leader for the Ducks and led them to a fifth place team finish at the AIAW cross country meet. At the conference meet they scored 249 points and won twelve titles and Warren didn't run. She set a collegiate record in the mile at the Pepsi Invitational (4:30.36).

At the AIAW meet they finished third (40 points) behind Tennessee (61) as Warren won both the 800 (2:06.07) and 1500 (4:15.00) meters using her prodigious kick and Harmon won the javelin (177-10). Forbes (sixth in 5k), O'Dea (sixth in 3k), and Batiste (sixth in 200) joined the third place 1600 relay (3:34.13) as all-Americans.

Warren was named AIAW athlete of the year and only lost to Madeline Manning in any race (second at US championship 800), broke the collegiate record in the 800 at 1:59.63 at the World University Games, and won the 5th Avenue Mile in 4:25.31 (down hill).

The success of that team probably brought in one of the best recruiting classes in all of Duck track history. Future NCAA champions, Olympians and all-Americans joined the team. Three-time NCAA champion Claudette Groenendaal (800 and 1500 NCAA champion and two-time US 800 champion), two-time Olympian Lynda Hughes, NCAA champion Kathy Hayes, and all-American Rosa Gutierrez (3,000) and Roz Rouse (javelin). Collegiate records were set by Claudette Groenendaal (800 in 1:58.33), four-time record setter Kathy Hayes (8:50.79 in out 3k, 9:11.0 indoor 3k, 15:23.03 in the 5k, and 32:43.1 in the 10k).

That fall the toughened and focused Warren trained harder than ever and was second at the NCAA cross country meet, still the Ducks highest finish, Forbes was 13th, Hayes was 16th, Martin was 22nd, and Gutierrez was 58th as the Ducks lost only to the Martin Smith-led Virginia team 36 to 82 for the first NCAA cross country championship.

Other teams were getting better and Warren decided she needed to run three events at the UCLA dual in 1982 to help the Ducks win in Los Angeles after losing the previous year 70-57. UCLA had future Olympic champions Jackie Joyner, Florence Griffith and Jeannette Bolden, and 1980 Olympic Trials 400 champion Sheri Howard. Oregon won the dual 69-58 but paid a cost. Recently Warren said, "I was sick after the triple at UCLA and couldn't get act together," the rest of the season.

UCLA won the first women's NCAA championships in 1982 with a record (twelve place) score of 153 points and Oregon scored 104 as Leann won the 1500 (4:17.90) and finished third in the 800 (2:06.58) to Tennessee's Delisa Walton and Joetta Clark. Duck scorers included Kathy Hayes (second in 5,000), Ranza Clark (sixth in 800), Forbes (third in 5k and second in 10k), Gutierrez (third in 3k), javelin with Hughes and Harmon going 2-3, and Costello (ninth 100 hurdles).

Warren broke the collegiate record in the 1,500 at the US vs USSR by finishing second to Mary Decker with a time of 4:05.88. That summer started the first of Leann's knee surgeries, three arthroscopic and two scalpel, that would keep her out of action until the winter of 1985. Sally Harmon also went out with lingering elbow problems and did not return until 1985.

In the fall of 1982 Forbes (15th), Hayes (39th), and freshman Kim Roth (41st) led the Ducks to a third place finish (155 points) behind Virginia (47) and Stanford (88). Roth had an outstanding prep career and was the only Oregon runner to win three consecutive AAA titles over 3,000 meters at that point.

Hopes had been high that Warren and Harmon might compete in track but for Warren one leg got better and then the other needed to have surgery. Hayes tied the collegiate 3k record indoors (9:11.0). The Ducks dominated the new conference meet, NorPac and won eight titles to accumulate a team score of 215 to 105 for Washington.

At the NCAA meet Ranza Clark (second in 1,500 and tenth in 800), Kathy Hayes (second 5k), Martin (was O'Dea finished fourth in 5k and ninth in 10k), Quenna Beasley (seventh in Shot Put and eighth in Discus), Roz Rouse (fourth in Javelin) scored well and finished fifth with 66 points behind UCLA with 116 ½. Kathy Hayes ran 8:50.79 to finish fourth at the US (TAC) championships. That mark set her second collegiate record.

In the fall of 1983 Oregon had a few breakout performances. Hayes was third at NCAA cross country, Martin at 17th, Roth at 27th, freshman Kim Ryan at 41st, and sophomore Gretchen Nelson at 52nd combined to win Oregon's first NCAA cross country meet with 95 points to Stanford's 98 and North Carolina State had 99.

Going into the NCAA meet Oregon focused their efforts on winning the NCAA championships at home. Oregon entered few of their top competitors at the NorPac meet and won still with 148 points to 114 for Washington. Groenendaal did win the 800 by running 2:02.99 and had improved from 2:07.13 from the year before. The next week she won the Oregon Twilight in 2:02.26. Kathy Hayes almost redshirted during the winter but slowly came back and ran her first 10,000 ever at the NorPac meet, winning in 33:41.9.

One big factor in Claudette's improvement was training with Ranza Clark and as Heinonen says now, "She did a little more of everything, she did everything better."

Ten days later at the NCAA meet Hayes surprised the competition in front of a sparse crowd on Wednesday night by running 32:43.81 (still Oregon's school record). Groenendaal (2:03.38) was second to Joetta Clark of Tennessee after winning the 1,500 meters in a meet record 4:14.31 just 80 minutes before. Ranza Clark (sixth in 1,500), Forbes (eighth in 5k) and Roth (ninth in 1,500) were the only other Duck scorers and Oregon's fourth place finish (64 points to Florida State's 145) was overshadowed by the Duck men's surprising win. Forbes had struggled with injuries during her career and took a victory lap on the inside of the track in her bare feet.

That summer Groenendaal ran 1:59.98 at the Oslo Games and was sixth at the Olympic Trials and ran 4:08.13 in Lausanne in the 1,500 meters. Hayes was a semi-finalist at the Trials 3,000 meters. With a sixth year allowed under AIAW rules (grandfathered-in by the NCAA) Warren and Harmon readied to help the Ducks win the NCAA outdoor track championships in Austin, Texas the next year. Dave Klyzek took over as throws coach in 1985. Warren first helped the Ducks to a fourth place finish at the NCAA cross country championships by finishing 13th behind Hayes in 12th, and then Roth in 16th, Clark in 60th and Groenendaal in 65th.

Brenda Bushnell transferred to Oregon and helped Hayes, Groenendaal, and Warren (all Oregon high school products) set a likely unbreakable 4xmile relay record of 18:39.58. The next day Hayes ran a collegiate record 15:23.03 (still the school record). None of the top Ducks ran at NorPac and the Ducks won in Pullman with 156 points to 133 for Washington State.

Warren says now, "We had such a strong distance corps and throwers that could score." She sees the importance of that first win, "The end of the first legacy of Oregon track and it was time to nail a championship."

Oregon came into the NCAA meet as the favorite. Many of the top teams had lost their top competitors but still the top teams in addition to Oregon were UCLA (with freshman Gail Devers entered in five events), Texas (with Juliet Cuthbert), and Florida State.

Groenendaal was the favorite in both the 800 and 1,500 meters and told Track and Field News at the time, "Just having Leann there helps me get harder work done." Now she says, "It helped to have someone else, and vice-versa." They didn't race much against each other that year and Claudette says now, "No reason to have his athletes dual it out."

Heinonen admits Groenendaal now training with Warren after Ranza Clark had graduated helped, "That certainly was a factor." Back then he told Track and Field News, "Leann definitely is more the aggressor in training."

Heinonen says now about going in as the favorite at the NCAA meet, "If we were every going to do it, that was the year." Every day though things did not go as planned and he bowed his head walking up the from the meet, "We went through that whole meet expecting more. Everyday we left expecting more."

In the heat Hayes was fifth in the 10,000 (33:55.10) after winning the previous year. Some expected finalists did not advance - school record holder Shari Collins did not make the high jump final, Gutierrez did not make the 5,000 meter final and Kim Roth was out for the season with injuries.

Oregon did plug along with a large group of scorers. Quenna Beasley was sixth in the Discus (175-7) and sixth in the shot put (51-5 ¼), Brenda Bushnell was seventh in the 3,000 meters (9:25.87), and Sally Harmon was fourth in the javelin throw (176-3) and Oregon went into the final day with the Ducks in good position. Coach Heinonen remembers, "When it came down to it we were still in it."

Claudette and Leann would do the 1500/800 double together with the finals just two hours apart. Claudette was second in the 1,500 meters in 4:14.34 and Leann was behind her in third in 4:15.28. In the 800 meters Claudette won in 2:01.20 and Warren was fourth in 2:02.54.

Oregon had the lead with 46 points but were worried about the 100 meter final which was the last event before the 5,000 meters and 4x400 meter relay. Future Olympian Juliet Cuthbert of Texas and UCLA's Gail Devers (fifth event) were in the final. One competitor did not run in the final and as Heinonen recently said, "The gun went off and Devers had nothing and the Texas girl pulled a hammy."

Still worried about the 4x400 meter relay Heinonen and Stream discussed whether to advise Hayes of the situation, "We had a chance to put it away in the 5k. Kathy had to be third or better and beat Schweitzer of Texas. Mark and I chose not to tell Kathy." Hayes was third (15:42.7) and beat Schweitzer. Oregon won with 52 points and Florida State tied for second with 46 and UCLA tied for fourth with 45.

Groenendaal won the first of her two national titles and ran 1:58.33 that summer in Bern, Switzerland. She ran successfully as a post-collegian (4:25.29 mile and 4:04.86 1,500 meters in 1986) but iron deficiency and thyroid problems prevented her from making the Olympic Team and she retired in 1997. Leann ran a mixed race 800 meters that summer in 1:59.2 to temporarily regain the collegiate record but her knee problems acted up again and she had to retire. Hayes and Harmon also battled injuries and were never able to have post-collegiate success. Harmon ended up as the throws coach at Oregon for several years and Hayes became Oregon Track Club president for a few years.

In all, the women of Oregon established themselves as a power on the national scene and it was mostly with kids from Oregon leading the way. Seven of those marks that were collegiate records (and still school records) at the time are still on the top-dozen of the all-time collegiate list in events from the 800 meters to the 10,000 meters. That was truly an all-time class of women.

eDuck Top Stories