Oregon Sweeps NCAA Titles

Oregon men and women 2016 Indoor Track & Field NCAA Champs (Photo by Walt Middleton)
March 13, 2016

Story Courtesy of goducks.com

Birmingham, Ala. – Although they achieved their goals in different ways, both the men and women’s track and field teams will board their plane home to Eugene as 2016 Indoor National Champions. The Men of Oregon put together another dominating performance, scoring 62 team points, 23 beyond second-place Arkansas, while the women gutted out a three point win over the Razorbacks with 53 team points.

The men had their national title on ice even before Edward Cheserek completed a triple that had only ever been done once before, but the women had to use every ounce of effort in the final event of the day to secure their spot on top of the field.

That final event was the women’s 4x400, which Oregon entered with a five point lead over Arkansas knowing they had to either finish ahead of, or very close behind, last year’s team champions. The team of Alaysha Johnson, Deajah Stevens, Brooke Feldmeier and Raevyn Rogers put together the second fastest time in Oregon history (3:29.77) to finish third and clinch the sixth women’s title in seven years, matching LSU’s record run from 1991-97.

“We’re a combined program,” said head coach Robert Johnson. “We take pride in being a combined, balanced program at that, we score all across the board in all the disciplines. For them to all share and celebrate together is awesome.”

The balance is something Johnson has reiterated since he took the helm of both programs in 2013, and it was on full display over the weekend. The women’s team scored in seven events from 12 different people while the men scored in seven events from nine individuals.

Though the balance is key, a little star power never hurts. The Ducks have that in spades with Cheserek, Rodgers and Devon Allen who each won individual titles on Saturday.

After winning the 5,000 and distance medley relay on Friday, Cheserek was looking for one more individual title in the 3,000. The junior waited patiently until there were 500 meters left in the race, then decided to push the pace.

“Coach told me to just relax as much as you can, sit back and just wait until a couple laps left and then you can go,” he said. “I knew everyone in the field was giving it a last kick so my gut was telling me just go and I was ready to go.”

His gut instinct paid off, as Cheserek won by a second in 8:01.40. The only person to ever win those three events (5k, DMR, 3K) in the same national championship was former Oregon great Galen Rupp in 2009. It marked the 13th national championship for the Oregon phenom and 11th individual trophy. With still another year of eligibility remaining, he has recorded 63 points during NCAA Indoor Championships, second behind Suleiman Nyambui’s 79.

He was joined at the top of the podium by Allen who set another personal best and school record while winning the 60 hurdles in 7.56 seconds. Allen is the first Oregon athlete to win the event and now has both indoor and outdoor titles to his name after winning the 110 hurdles in 2014. Although both his prelim and finals races were not as clean over the hurdles as he would have like them, the dual-sport star said it was mission accomplished.

“I’m just exited to get the win,” he said. “I just came out here to compete and score points and I did my job. It was a little sloppy, but I hit a new PR so I can’t complain.”

Rogers claimed the women’s 800 crown while looking to be in complete control. The Houston native found her position behind the leader and surged with 150 meters to go, winning in 2:04.68 while also conserving some energy for her anchor leg of the 4x400.

It was the only win of the meet for the Oregon women’s team, speaking to the strength and depth of the 15 entries into the field. The Ducks had two scorers in three different events, with 13 points coming from Hannah Cunliffe and Jasmine Todd in the 60. Cunliffe matched her preliminary time of 7.12 in the final to finish second while Todd took fourth in 7.19, her fastest time of the season.

Cunliffe doubled up in the 200 where she finished third in 22.85, the second fastest time in school history and was followed by a fourth-place finish from Stevens who ran 23.02, marking the second consecutive year an Oregon freshman has scored in the 200.

The women’s team had two scorers in the 60 hurdles led by Sasha Wallace who improved on last year’s fifth-place finish with a runner-up finish this year. Wallace shattered her own school record of 7.96 with a time of 7.91 in the final which is tied for eighth on the NCAA all-time list. Alaysha Johnson tacked on another crucial point to the team total with an eighth-place finish in 8.16.

It was women’s team that was surprisingly inexperienced at the NCAA Indoor Championships given the team’s recent success, with the Ducks relying on a lot of young talent and newcomers to rally from a major deficit during the second day of competition. After Todd finished her 60, she was hoping her new teammates could feel the same joy she felt in 2014.

“The feeling of getting that title with that team was amazing,” said Todd. “It’s such a big group of us out here now and I’m excited to share that with all these ladies.”

It was a similar experience on the men’s side for sophomores Blake Haney, Sam Prakel and Nate Moore, who were competing at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time of their careers. The moment was not too big for the mile duo which put up the first points of the day, eight from Haney’s second-place finish and five more for Prakel taking fourth. Moore tacked on four with a fifth-place finish in the triple jump and broke his own school record with a mark of 53-6.25 (16.31m).

The turnover on both sides was a talking point around Eugene this winter after losing the likes of Eric Jenkins and Jenna Prandini and sweeping the outdoor national titles last spring. Johnson, who won his 10th national title as the Ducks’ head coach, said it has been a long journey for this team which began with team meetings on October 1. That is when the team settled on the mantra “Our Time Now,” words displayed on running shirts Worn during Thursday's practice in Birmingham.

The slogan shows the history of Oregon track and field, which has now owns its 27th and 28th team titles, is not lost on the new faces.

But for these Ducks, their time is now.