Wednesday marks the beginning of what could be the four most exciting days in Duck track and field history as the men’s and women’s teams have a chance to win dual titles for the first time. According to the usually-reliable Track and Field News’ forecasts, the men are favored to win their second title in a row by a scant two points over the University of Florida.
Prior to the failure of one of Florida’s best long and triple jumpers to advance out of the East Regional Meet, the Gators were five-point picks. Should the Ducks or Gators falter, LSU and Texas A&M are solidly in the mix, with only six points separating first place from fourth place.
The Duck women are projected for second place, but only a point behind the USC team they whipped at the conference meet — without superstar Jenna Prandini.
Imagine the Cavs without Lebron taking down the Warriors and you can imagine the unlikelihood of the Duck women re-grouping and beating SC at Drake Stadium a couple of weeks ago.
This is a championship-ready Duck squad with a rested Prandini, an “on fire” Jasmine Todd and a supporting cast that’s pretty much the same team that rose from a projected 7th-place finish at the Indoor Nationals in Fayetteville to finish 2nd in the team race. But should the Ducks or Trojans make even the slightest mistakes, five other teams (Arkansas, A&M, Florida, Texas and Georgia) sit within eight projected points of USC.
A false start, a dropped baton or a no mark could turn the projections upside down. Both team races project to be nail-biters with four days of nervous intensity on tap for Duck track nuts, perhaps the equivalent of a four-day “crunch time.”
Oftentimes, such large-scale meets are won by those who are not projected to score. It’s almost a given that each squad will have a superstar or two falter along the way; when that happens, it’s the better balanced teams that see athletes come from far down in the rankings to grab a valuable point or two.
Both the Duck men’s and women’s teams bring more athletes to the meet than any other school and by a fairly large margin. On the men’s side, the Ducks have 23 entrants (those in more than one event are counted twice and the relays once each), with the next closest team (A&M) only 15. The Duck women bring 22 entrants while their closest rival (Arkansas) brings only 17.
More entrants equals more chances to score and also eases the pressure a bit on those expected to score. For instance, only 11 of the 22 Duck women entrants (50%) are projected to score while 12 of SC’s 16 entrants (75%) are projected to score. Which team feels more pressure? Which team has the best chance to bring non-projected scorers to the podium?
Recent history shows that the powerhouse schools of Florida, A&M and Oregon tend to be best-prepared for the big meets. I have trouble with TFN‘s pick of USC for several reasons: 1) The Trojans seemed to have been handed the women’s conference crown when Prandini was forced to the sidelines with a minor hamstring issue.
Despite new coach Caryl Smith Gilbert‘s prancing around a Westwood restaurant shouting “We’re Number One” after the first day of the two-day meet, the Trojans were unable to deliver on a small stage in their hometown,
and 2) Sprinter Tynia Gaither suffered a hamstring injury while anchoring the Lady Trojans 4×100 team. She literally leapt the final 30 meters on one leg. While she had previously qualified for the 100, Gaither was forced to drop out of the 200 and it’s questionable that she’ll be in shape to garner the three points she’s projected for in the 100 and also anchor the relay team to the projected third-place finish.
The Duck men, on the other hand, are essentially the same team that went into the Indoor Championships as a 4.5 point underdog to Florida and then proceeded to wallop the Gators by 24 points.
To be fair, the indoor championships tend to favor powerful distance schools and the indoor distance medley relay (10 Duck points) is replaced outdoors by the 4×100 relay, an event in which the Ducks did not clear regionals. Florida, however, is projected to tally six points here. That’s potentially a huge 16 point swing.
Fear not, Duck fans. The Ducks will benefit this week from the return of indoor absentees Dakotah Keys (who had no indoor eligibility left) and Jonathan Cabral, who sat out the indoor season with an injury. TFN has the pair projected for a total of 9 points.
I would encourage those who aren’t Hayward Faithful to come out this week and support your Ducks. No expertise is necessary as the announcers do a good job of keeping fans informed, and the Register Guard’s daily cheat sheets make for easy preparation to view the meet. For those who can’t make it, the various ESPN channels will be broadcasting the most extensive coverage ever of an NCAA meet.
FishDuck.com will have two photographers there and Editor-in-Chief Mike Merrell attending as our media representative. Mike, a near-qualifier for the 1976 Olympic Trials in the marathon, will be providing an analysis at the end of each day to compare the form charts to what actually occurred.
Stay locked in, as track history at the University of Oregon could be made this week!
Top photo by Gary Breedlove