Oregon splits efforts to continue qualifying athletes into the NCAA Indoors

Oregon indoor record-holder Sasha Wallace will be looking to lower her time in the 60m hurdles this weekend at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of GoDucks.com)

EUGENE, Ore. – Divide and conquer is the name of the game this weekend for the University of Oregon indoor track and field programs.

The Ducks will try to capitalize on their last two meets of the indoor season to qualify as many athletes as they can in a bid to defend both of their men’s and women’s national titles at next month’s NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas.

This weekend, the UO distance runners and throwers head north to the Husky Classic in Seattle, while the sprints, jumps and hurdles crews travel east to the Don Kirby Elite Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to UO head coach Robert Johnson, the split was deliberate because the oversized 307-meter track in Washington is more conducive for the distance runners to hit the qualifying times. The shorter sprints, on the other hand, can capitalize on the banked track in Albuquerque to get a feel of the competition terrain leading up to the championship.

“We want to take a large crew to the NCAAs,” Johnson said. “We need to focus and make this even more of business trip as the ones in the past to get that done.”

As the NCAA championships draw closer, the general message being imparted to the team has been that of dwindling opportunities for those who have yet to qualify. At the most recent team meeting on Tuesday, Johnson said team members such as Raevyn Rogers, Marcus Chambers, Alli Cash, Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington started the meeting with the usual congratulatory tone of celebrating those who had attained personal records, but ended it on the tone that time was limited.

For senior Sasha Wallace, who is in her final season competing for the Ducks, that time has been especially precious.

“I really just want to take advantage of enjoying myself,” Wallace, a hurdler, said. “It is my last season, so I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. Just have fun and enjoy the teammates around me.”

Tim Gorman, a transfer from Dartmouth, is also in his last season of NCAA eligibility. After obtaining his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth, he decided to use his last season of eligibility to compete for the Ducks.

“I thought Oregon had the potential to win three team championships and I wanted to be a part of that,” Gorman said.

At the Columbia East-West Challenge, Gorman was .29 seconds off his indoor mile PR of 4 minutes, 1.64 seconds, which was set in 2014. He said the qualifying time for the NCAAs is usually around 3:58. But training with teammates Matthew Maton, Sam Prakel and Blake Haney, to name a few, has given him confidence to come within reach of that time.

“I think I’m ready to do something,” Gorman said. “I’ve never trained this hard this early before. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in early February. If I don’t get it in this week, I’ll have to run another mile. That’ll be three miles, and I’d like to do a 3k or something and have fun at MPSF.”

In the meantime, the prospect of going to Albuquerque is exciting for the sprints group.

“I always like running in Albuquerque,” Wallace said. “Everyone seems to do pretty well. The times are pretty good. I’m sure we’re gonna come out with better times and even more qualifiers. Just because we’re going there makes everyone more excited to compete.”