Football may get the attention, but cross country is THE elite fall sport at the University of Oregon. The men's XC team finished second at the NCAA championships last year after taking home the title in 2007 and 2008, and the women's team finished ninth for their third straight top 10 finish.
The men's team will have to overcome the losses of seniors Andrew Wheating, Diego Mercado, Jordan McNamara, and Kenny Klotz, all NCAA Championship participants. Luckily, this is Tracktown USA, and the Ducks are still fully loaded with talent. Anchoring the team will be junior Luke Puskedra, the top freshman at the 2008 NCAA Championships and the top Duck in last year's race, finishing 21st; also, senior Matthew Centrowitz, an All-American last year who finished 27th at the NCAA Championships, one of four Ducks in the Top 31. Other notable returners include senior Daniel Mercado, owner of the best Oregon track moustache since Pre, and senior and 1500 meter school record holder AJ Acosta.
Attempting to replace the outgoing seniors are a stable of young Oregon runners. A few names to look out for:
Mac Fleet (sophomore) - Besides having the most fitting name for an Oregon athlete since Wesley Mallard, Fleet had a nice freshman campaign for the Men of Oregon, including a 33rd place finish at the Pac-10 Championships. In addition to his cross country success, Fleet broke Glen Rupp's school record in the indoor mile, and was the national runner-up at that distance.
Elijah Greer (redshirt freshman) - Greer had a very successful track season last year, earning All-American honors in the 800 meters. Hopefully that middle distance speed will translate to XC success.
Brian Shrader, Parker Stinson, and Cole Watson (freshmen) - Vin Lananna's incoming freshman class enters with considerable credentials, and these three have the most impressive prep resumes. Shrader is a two-time Arizona Gatorade Runner of the Year, and went undefeated in cross country over those two seasons. Watson is a two-time USA Junior Track & Field championship competitor in the 800 and 1500 meters, and was the 2009 Steve Prefontaine award winner at the Nike Oregon Sports Awards. Parker Stinson is a two-time national champion at 10,000 meters, and finished sixth at the IAAF World Junior Championships. His 2009 national title came at Hayward Field. Hmmm, 10,000 meters. Hayward Field. Really fast. Could he be Galen Rupp 2.0? As deep as the team is, all three of these runners could potentially redshirt.
If you would ever like to see LeBron James perform in person, there's no need to take your talents to South Beach. Oregon has their own LeBron James, and her name is Jordan Hasay. Her high school career was nothing short of unbelievable. A short list of accolades: four-time cross country state champion and two-time national champion, Gatorade National Cross Country Athlete of the Year, USA Track & Field Young Athlete of the Year, SI.com Girl's Athlete of the Year, and SportsMaxPreps Female Athlete of the Year. She made everyone in Eugene take notice by setting a US high school record in the 1500 meters at the 2008 Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. Her freshman year at Oregon was just as impressive. She placed 18th at the NCAA Championships, following up a 3rd place finish at the Pac-10 Championships and a 2nd place at the NCAA West Regional. She was also a key point scorer for the indoor team - helping the women to their first national title, and placed 3rd at the outdoor championships in the 1500.
The team loses seniors Nicole Blood and Lauren Zaludek, but returns NCAA Championship finishers Alex Kosinski, Claire Michel, Bronwyn Crossman, and Anne Kesselring. Replacing the production of Blood and Zaludek are senior Zoe Buckman, a two-time Pac-10 champion at the 800 and 1500 meters, sophomores Rebecca Friday and Sarah Penney, and redshirt freshmen Melanie Thompson, Taylor Wallace, and Alexandra Jones.
The freshman class includes native New Yorker and 800 meter indoor national champion Phyllis Francis, 21-time North Dakota state champ Laura Roesler, five-time Texas state champ and Pan American Junior 5000 meter champion Sarah Andrews, and New York state 1500 meter champion Megan Patrignelli.
The teams open the season in Corvallis on September 3rd at the John Frank Memorial Invitational, and will run in South Bend, IN at the Notre Dame Invitational before returning home to host the Bill Dellinger Invitational at Springfield CC on October 16th. The Ducks also host the NCAA West Regionals on November 13th, also at Springfield CC. A full schedule is available here.
On the men's side, the veteran support of Puskedra, Centrowitz, and Mercado provides a great foundation for the team. But if the team wants to compete for a national title, they need good seasons from their younger runners. As for the women, the team is experienced, fast, and led by Hasay, who should factor into the individual national title picture. Expect to see both teams put up another good showing in Terra Haute, IN at the NCAA Championships, and don't be surprised if one of both teams come back with hardware.