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Four-Peat: Duck Women Indoor Champs

Courtesy: Oregon Sports Information

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Women of Oregon dug their way out of a deep deficit to overcome nearly a dozen teams and win their fourth straight NCAA Indoor Track and Field national title Saturday night at the Randal Tyson Center.

The women locked up the meet with their only event win of the Championships – the 4×400 meter relay – to secure the title with 56 points. Kansas was second with 44, with Louisiana State third with 43 and host Arkansas fourth with 42.5.

The team of English Gardner, Chizoba Okodogbe, Laura Roesler and Phyllis Francis won the 4×400 relay for the Ducks in a school record 3:30.22. Gardner put Oregon ahead on the opening leg and Oregon never looked back. Gardner timed 53.64 on the opening leg, followed by Okodogbe’s 52.54, Roesler’s 52.64 and Francis’s impressive 51.42 as the Ducks won the indoor 4×4 crown for the second time in four years.

Oregon became just the second team to win four consecutive NCAA Indoor titles, joining LSU which won five straight from 1993-97.

The Men of Oregon proved resurgent too with Elijah Greer winning the 800 meters en route to a top 10 finish.

“All we could do today was control “Oregon”,” said head coach Robert Johnson. “We were the captain of our own fate.

“A tip of the hat to the way all of our Ducks not only came out and competed today, but also supported and cheered each other on. This was an outstanding team effort.”

The women opened the day in 11th place with nine points, but began their climb with a gutsy run from Becca Friday in the mile. The senior from Bellingham, Wash., rallied from ninth place to sixth on the final lap, crossing the tape in 4:39.23 for three team points.

“We fought for every point today,” said Friday. “We stuck together all the way through the 4×4.

“It’s a great team; it’s great to be a Duck.”

Also in the mile, a tired Anne Kesselring took 10th in 4:50.77. Kesselring anchored the Ducks’ distance medley relay less than 24 hours earlier.

Next, it was Francis’ time to step up in the 400 meters. She came back from a ragged semifinal run on Friday to place second in her heat and fourth overall in 52.01. That was worth five team points as the Ducks began to gain ground on Kansas and Arkansas and keep pace with LSU.

The Ducks then jumped to second place with 12 points in the 60 meters.

Gardner, the 2012 NCAA champion, was the runner-up in 7.15 seconds, finishing just behind Central Florida’s Aurieyall Scott, who won in 7.13. The sophomore from Voorhees, N.J., was just a half step behind Scott the whole race as the two thrilled the Randal Tyson Center crowd with another entertaining NCAA final.

The Ducks also got a huge performance in the 60 from freshman Jenna Prandini, who placed fifth in 7.38. The Clovis, Calif., native came into the meet as the No. 12 seed.

“For us as coaches, it’s always pleasing to have these young people step on the big stage,” said Johnson not only of Prandini, but of several of the younger Ducks. “It can be intimidating for someone who has never been at the national meet before, but all of our newcomers showed they can handle themselves and will only get better from here.”

Roseler put the Ducks into the lead for the first time with her runner up finish in the 800 meters. The junior from Fargo, N.D., crossed the tape in an impressive 2:02.32, finishing behind only Natoya Goule of LSU (2:02.00). Roesler was critical in breaking up the Tigers’ powerful 800 tandem of Goule and Charlene Lipsey, who was third in 2:05.02.

Roesler’s runner-up finish also broke one of the oldest records in the Oregon history book. She took down the 31 year-old mark of 2:03.89 run by Leann Warren in 1982.

Oregon led with 37 points at that point, followed by LSU with 34 and Kansas with 33 with three events left: the triple jump, the 3,000 meters and the 4×4.

The Jayhawks jumped back to the lead with a win in the triple jump, upping their team total to 43. The Tigers’ also netted five triple jump points to pass Oregon with 39.

The Ducks responded with Jordan Hasay and Alexi Pappas in the 3,000 and the senior duo who led Oregon to the 2012 NCAA Cross Country title pushed the Ducks in front for good. Hasay fought her way to a runner-up finish in 9:06.61. The senior from Arroyo Grande, Calif., tucked into the pack as the leaders pulled away midway through the race, and then worked her way up through her competitors to claim eight crucial team points.

Pappas, a senior transfer from Dartmouth in her final appearance as a Duck, added another point for Oregon with her eighth place finish in 9:12.38.

That gave Oregon a 46-43 lead on Kansas heading to the 4×4, where the Ducks slammed the door.

With the indoor and cross country titles now in hand, the Ducks have brought two of the three legs of the “triple crown” home to Eugene, where the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships will be contested June 5-8.

Meanwhile Greer and Mike Berry’s runner-up finish in the 400 meters helped the Men of Oregon tie for sixth with 22 points.

Arkansas won the team title with 74 points, followed by Florida (59), Wisconsin (33), Texas A&M (30), Texas Tech (28) and Oregon and Arizona (22).

“It was really encouraging to see our men come out and perform well,” said Johnson. “Getting back to being in the hunt for trophy at the national championships is huge for the development of our program and moving in the direction of what we’re trying to do.”

Greer looked smooth from the opening gun and tucked into second on the shoulder of Penn State’s Casimir Loxsom for the first 600 meters. On the bell lap, the junior from Lake Oswego, Ore., sprinted around Loxom to the lead and finished clear of the field to win in 1:47.13. Loxom was next in 1:47.23.

Greer became the first Duck ever to win an indoor 800 meter title.

Junior Boru Guyota was eighth in the 800 in 1:51.04.

“Elijah and Mike were just outstanding,” said Johnson. “To have them step up and perform like, what else can you say.”

Like he did in Boise last year, Berry won his 400 final heat only to see another runner steal the title in the second heat. The junior from Seattle, Wash., sprinted clear of the field to win his section in 45.83 only to watch Errol Nolan of Houston take the second heat and the overall title in 45.75.

Still, Berry’s runner-up finish was the best ever for a Duck in the indoor 400 meters.

Also for the men, Johnathan Cabral finished strong to earn a sixth place finish in the 60 meter hurdles. The sophomore from Calabasas, Calif., leaned at the tape to finish in 7.73 seconds, tying his personal best and scoring three team points.

Dakotah Keys took ninth in the heptathlon, scoring a personal best 5,757 points. That was the third best total in school history.

Keys opened day two of the heptathlon by running a personal best 8.27 in the 60 meter hurdles. He followed that by clearing 15-5/4.70m in the pole vault.

The junior from Sweet Home, Ore., wrapped up his first NCAA heptathlon competition by running 2:43.99 in the 1,000 meters to eclipse his previous PR by four points.

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