Eugene, Ore. -- The Oregon cross country team is returning to the fields around the Willamette Valley with the same high expectations as years past. The USTFCCCA ranked the Ducks as the no. 9 (women) and no. 11 (men) teams in the country entering the 2019 season, and the hope is to not only challenge for a Pac-12 title, but to bring home some national hardware as well.
While the Ducks lose some star runners, especially on the women's side with Jessica Hull graduating, they return a bevy of talent which includes Philly Bowden and Taylor Chiotti, among others. The men bring back some of their best athletes from last year. Cooper Teare and Jackson Mestler were both All Pac-12 selections in 2018 and are poised for season that would rival or even surpass what they put together last September.
But looming over the entire season is the upcoming completion of the new Hayward Field, whose construction has been moving along smoothly, and just in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials. Back in the winter of 2018, Oregon head coach Robert Johnson joked with the media that he had difficulties pitching recruits on a big plot of dirt. This fall, with recruits in town, cross country coaches Ben Thomas and Helen Lehman-Winters said it was easier with a building nearly halfway done.
"It's not just talk now," says Thomas. "They see that it's actually gonna go up in time for their first outdoor season, it looks like. And we just had some recruits visiting last weekend and yeah, it's a lot more to show off now and you're actually seeing it taking shape."
"It was just a dirt plot," Lehman-Winters says with a chuckle. "I remember looking at it and saying 'wow' that's a really big footprint when it's empty and to see the process on it now is phenomenal."
The Ducks will have their annual training camp at Sunriver, after competing in the Ash Creek Invitational (site of the Pac-12 Championships). They will then return home for the Bill Dellinger Invitational on September 28th at Pine Ridge Golf Club in Springfield.