The 2014 NCAA track and field season was one of the best in recent years — if not ever — for the Oregon Ducks men’s and women’s teams. After both teams won NCAA indoor championships and completed a strong regular outdoor season, the Ducks excelled in the regional qualifiers, sending a total of 37 men and women athletes to the NCAA Championships at Historic Hayward Field. The men’s team won its first national outdoor title since 1984 while the women’s team took third. The meet was highlighted by outstanding individual performances from many Duck athletes, and the Ducks will look to repeat, or possibly even exceed, the success of this year in the indoor and outdoor 2014-2015 seasons. Here are five reasons why you should be there to watch them next year.
- 2014 National Championship Performances
The Ducks lit up the track all four days of the 2014 NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships. The title-winning men’s team was led by individual championship performances from Mac Fleet, Sam Crouser and sensational freshmen Edward Cheserek and Devon Allen. These four scored a total of 48 of the men’s 88 team points. The women’s team was led by title-winning performances from Laura Roesler in the 800 meter run and Jenna Prandini in the long jump. Prandini also finished second in the women’s 200 meter dash and third in the women’s 100 meter dash. Phyllis Francis added second place points in the 400 meters and Laura Bobek, Brittany Mann and Jillian Weir stepped up to give the women’s team unexpected points in the weight events. With unheard of team balance, between the men’s and women’s teams, the Ducks placed individuals in the top eight in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5K, 10K, steeplechase, multi-events, sprint hurdles, hammer, javelin, discus, shot put, long jump and 4 X 400 relay. By comparison, the only events where the Ducks failed to score at least one man or woman were the 4 X 100 relay (only due to a failed exchange), the pole vault, high jump, triple jump and 400 hurdles. This well-rounded balance as a team not only makes them more exciting to watch, but also increases their chances of meet victories. Plus, even at a championship meet you don’t have to wait long for the next Duck up.
- The 2015 NCAA Track & Field Championships will be held at Historic Hayward Field.
With Hayward Field being the most respected and recognized track and field stadium in the nation, the NCAA has decided that Track Town USA will play host again next year for the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships. Actually, the NCAA is so impressed by what happens at Hayward that it awarded Oregon the meet for the next seven years. This will give the Ducks a chance to defend their 2014 national title in front of their home crowd at Hayward Field, where they won the men’s title this year.
3. Oregon coaches receive 2014 men’s outdoor coach(es) of the year.
After coaching his team to its first national title since 1984, Oregon coach Robert Johnson was named the men’s outdoor coach of the year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Also, Johnson’s assistant Andy Powell was named the USTFCCCA men’s outdoor assistant coach of the year. While Johnson has only been the head coach since the summer of 2009, his impact on the program has been immediate. He has led the women’s team to four consecutive indoor NCAA team titles, and has been named the women’s indoor coach of the year four times as well. Powell has made his impact by being the distance coach. He coached NCAA champions Cheserek and Fleet this year, as well as the other competitors in the distance races. Johnson’s and Powell’s coaching has benefited the team by leading them to victories as well as by attracting young talent in the recruiting wars.
4. Returning women’s athletes
The women’s team will have many returning competitors in the 2014-2015 indoor and outdoor seasons. The most notable of the returners is Jenna Prandini, who will be a junior next school year. She was a fan favorite at the 2014 NCAA championships where she won the long jump, finished third in the 100 meter dash and second in the 200 meter dash. Prandini will look to continue her dominance in the Pac-12 Conference as well as nationally next season. Although Liz Brenner struggled at the NCAA championships in the javelin, she is also a notable returner for the women’s team after her impressive 2014 season.
- Returning men’s athletes
For the men’s team, the two returners everyone will have their eyes on are this year’s freshmen sensations Edward Cheserek and Devon Allen. Cheserek and Allen arguably had the two most exciting final races of the 2014 NCAA championships, which both of them won. Cheserek won the 10,000 meter run in truly amazing fashion, bursting ferociously through the last 200 meters to win and holding up the Oregon “O” with his hands as he passed through the finish line. Cheserek also placed a close second in the 5000 meter run, one of the few exciting races that didn’t go the Ducks’ way.
Allen, who improved his time in the 110 meter hurdles every meet this season, ended his season on a spectacular note by winning the men’s 110 meter hurdles, running a life-time best 13.16 seconds and shocking both the field and the ESPN announcers, who barely mentioned his name before the race. Allen merely broke the NCAA Championship Meet record and ran the second-fastest 110 hurdle time in collegiate history. Allen has proven himself to be a star worth watching for the Ducks and will look to break more records and defend his national title in the 2014-2015 season. Other notable returning athletes for the men’s team include 2014 NCAA javelin champion Sam Crouser, fourth-place finisher in the hammer-throw Greg Skipper and fourth place finisher in the 5000 meters, Erik Jenkins.
Oregon track doesn’t get much more exciting that this.
So there it is …
This is an incredible time for Oregon athletics, truly a golden age. Teams have made runs at national titles in football, volleyball, softball, track & field and cross country. Teams have made it to post season NCAA championship tournaments in basketball, baseball, golf and tennis. Excellence in athletics at the University of Oregon isn’t the exception. It’s the norm. What is happening in track & field, though, is exceptional even by Oregon standards. Chosen to host the NCAA Championships for the next seven years, Oregon is possibly on the brink of establishing a dynasty for the ages. The devotion of the fans and the ambiance of Historic Hayward Field are not lost on the athletes who earn their way to compete at what is without argument the best running venue in North America. The athletes who attend the World Junior Championships at Hayward this summer are in for a special treat, and if even just a few of them choose to call Eugene “home” for the next four years — and why wouldn’t they? — the love affair between athletes and fans will only grow stronger.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove