Duck Men Runner-Up, but Undaunted in NCAA Track and Field

Bruce Editorials

While the Duck men weren’t able to overtake the LSU Tigers, Friday provided one of the most exciting days in NCAA Championship history.

As previously suggested, it would have taken a huge effort by the Duck men combined with a dramatic failure by the LSU men to give the Ducks any chance of an NCAA title. LSU scored just a point less than proposed by the Track and Field News prognosticators, while the Duck men were right on the money with the 53 points Track and Field News anticipated. The end result was LSU 84, Oregon 53.

The third place team North Carolina AT&T finished a distant third with 35 points. While I can’t say it was a disappointing meet for the Duck men since they scored as projected, one must also credit LSU for taking care of their “business trip” as LSU coach Dennis Shaver described it during the awards ceremony. I thought the Duck 4×100 relay team might get on the board and their passing was of decent quality, but they suffered a pretty bad second leg after Micah Williams put them in first place at the first pass and they never were able to recover, thus missing the final.

2021 NCAA Champion Emmanuel Ihemeje was grateful to the Hayward Field Crowd.

Decathlete Max Vollmer upended the Track and Field News form chart by scoring, but he only got one point, missing 7th place by a scant two points (which is about ½ a second in the final event, the 1500 meters). In fact, had he run anything close to his 1500PR, he would have moved into 5th position. Local Duck Jackson Mestler suffered from being in a super fast heat and did not make the final, despite having a better time than two athletes in the slow heat. He did, however, PR and I still believe he would have had a chance to score but for the bad luck of being in a fast heat. So much for the negative aspects of the meet for our Ducks.

Meanwhile, triple jump ace Emmanuel Ilhemeje got the crowd rocking with his first leap. At 56 2 ¾”, he pretty much put an end to anyone else’s hopes and teammate Isaiah Grifith added an unexpected three points with his 6th place finish. The triple jump performances must have been especially gratifying to coach Robert Johnson, a former triple jumper, who was able to watch Ilhemeje bring home two titles this year.

The two most exciting races of the day involved Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare of the Ducks. Hocker ran an intelligent race in the 1500 and, with the home crowd roaring, swept past the competition in the final 100 meters and held off a rapidly charging Yared Nuguse, the defending champ. Then, just 90 minutes later, Hocker once again toed the line in the 5000 along with Cooper Teare. While Teare stayed in close contact with the leaders throughout the race, Hocker laid back and with just a few laps left, it didn’t appear that he would score.

Cooper Teare cannot believe he just ran one of the fastest 5,000 meters in NCAA history.

Teare led most of those last two laps, but was passed by two opponents on the backstretch and things were looking a bit grim for the senior until he slingshotted past both on the final turn and raced home to an easy win in his final race as a Duck. To further amplify the roaring crowd, Hocker came out of nowhere with a gutty final lap and managed to snag 4th. While Henry Rono‘s ancient NCAA collegiate record wasn’t threatened, Teare became the second fastest performer in NCAA history and the fastest performer since 1978 (!), while also setting the NCAA meet record.

We all wanted yet another men’s title, but the crowd left the new stadium in an ecstatic mood, having seen our Duck aces establish top 10 collegiate all time records in the triple jump, 1500 and 5000 while also witnessing some great performances by LSU and getting a good preview of the Olympic Trials which start this week.

The Duck women didn’t fare nearly as well as the men, finishing in a tie for 11th as a result of finishes below expectations in the 4×100 relay, 100 meters and the steeplechase. The opportunity to finish in the top five evaporated almost immediately in the first event when the second handoff in the 4×100 relay resulted in a dropped baton. The Ducks previous season best would have been enough to win the relay, add 10 points and move them up to 6th in the final standings.

The gritty victory in the 10,000 by Carmela Cardama Baez’ electrified the crowd at Hayward Field and on television!

Anticipated performances in the steeplechase and 100 would have added at least another 5 points to move the Ducks into 4th place. To make matters worse for Duck fans, Texas A&M seized the beloved Raevyn Rogers et al collegiate record in the 4×400 relay in the last event of the day. The only true bright spot of the entire meet for the Duck women was Carmela Cardama Baez’ outstanding win in the 10,000 meters on Thursday evening.

So what might happen next season? Cooper Teare will have completed his eligibility and there’s a chance several of the men might entertain pro contracts. However, given the new NCAA transfer protocols I firmly believe the Ducks will pick up some great transfers as a result of opposing athletes viewing the amazing facilities and passionate crowds at Hayward, however limited this year. The future looks bright!

Bruce Nelson
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo from Oregon T&F Twitter

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