EUGENE, Ore. – Look for the third-ranked Oregon men’s and women’s cross country teams to follow their season-long script at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday.
If they can do that, the Ducks might find themselves with a spot among the top four teams on the awards podium.
“Our women will run as a tight pack,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. “The men will have two low sticks and the middle guys will run together. That’s what we hope to get out of this weekend, along with some hardware to bring back and put in the trophy case.”
As usual, the Duck men will follow the lead of the two “low sticks” referenced by Johnson in sophomore Edward Cheserek, the reigning NCAA individual champion, and senior Eric Jenkins, a top-10 contender in the crowded national field of more than 250 runners.
In their wake, the UO coaching staff is counting on some breakout performances from the rest of the seven-man squad.
That group will likely include seniors Daniel Winn and Tanguy Pepiot, junior Matthew Melancon, sophomore Jake Leingang and freshman Travis Neuman. Senior Cole Watson and freshman Blake Haney are also on the Oregon travel squad.
“At (NCAA West) regionals, we were really impressed with Winn and Neuman,” Johnson said. “Those guys looked very controlled in their effort. So, if there is a bit more of that we can get at nationals, it would be awesome. If those guys can run 10-20 seconds faster, we’ll be really, really happy.”
On the women’s side, Oregon faces its most difficult challenge of the season in trying to stay together as a pack. With more than 250 runners on the starting line, it’s imperative that the Ducks don’t get left behind amidst the thundering herd over the first mile.
“Every coach will be telling their people the same thing,” Johnson said. “You need to get out, because you can get caught in traffic … and end up fighting the whole race to weave your way back through.”
The UO women have been as good as anybody with their pack mentality this year. The Ducks’ top five scorers placed within 10 seconds of each other in winning the Pac-12 championship, followed by a season-high spread of 22 seconds in claiming the NCAA West Regional title.
The UO lineup for NCAAs will likely be similar to its regional entries, with the possibility of adding two runners who were held out of that race: senior Lindsay Crevoiserat and junior Waverly Neer.
The rest of the NCAA entries will come from a group that includes senior Megan Patrignelli, juniors Molly Grabill, Annie Leblanc and Brianna Nerud, sophomore Maggie Schmaedick and freshmen Frida Berge and Alli Cash.
“They will have to stay together and help each other out,” Johnson said. “Stay upbeat and positive, and don’t be afraid to take chances … if you’re feeling good, get somebody to go with you. Usually with about 2K to go, those are the times you take those calculated risks.”
The Oregon women have only lost once this year.
They were beaten by top-ranked Michigan State at the Bill Dellinger Invitational
on Pre’s Trail more than two months ago. The Spartans, who have never finished higher than fourth in 16 NCAA appearances, are favored to win their first NCAA cross country title.
Other top contenders are Georgetown, Providence, Arkansas, Iowa State and Oregon. The UO women have won three previous NCAA cross country titles in 1983, ’87 and 2012.
On the men’s side, top-ranked Colorado is a prohibitive favorite to repeat as NCAA champions, with strong challenges expected from Oregon, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Oklahoma State.
The UO men have won six NCAA cross country titles: 1971, ’73, ’74, ’77, 2007 and 2008.
The women’s 6,000-meter race begins at 9 a.m. (Pacific), followed by the men’s 10,000-meter race at approximately 10 a.m. A live webcast of the championships will be broadcast on NCAA.com.