Oregon achieves crown jewel, sweeping men's and women's outdoor titles
In two short years, Robert Johnson had accumulated quite the résumé at Oregon. The Ducks won five national titles between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2014 in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field.
On Saturday, Johnson's résumé gained an item that moves to the top of the list. One year after Oregon men's team ended a 30-year title drought at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, the women did the same Saturday at Hayward Field. That gave the Ducks a sweep of the outdoor team titles in 2015, and for the first time in school history.
The Oregon women's march to the NCAA team title wasn't as dominant as that of the men. And the Ducks dug themselves a hole at the outset of the final session of the four-day meet -- the 4x100-meter relay quartet was disqualified after a bad second exchange.
Where the women followed suit with the men was in getting a couple of meet-changing performances that busted the form chart. The first came when Jenna Prandini leaned to the 100-meter title in a windy 10.96 seconds, and the second came 30 minutes later when precocious freshman Raevyn Rogers claimed the 800-meter crown.
Those performances helped the Ducks pile up 59 points, nine more than runner-up Kentucky.
"Ever since I've been here they've been emphasizing winning that team title outdoors," said Prandini, a junior who contributed to NCAA Indoor team titles in 2013 and '14. "I've been here four years -- I redshirted my freshman year -- and we've never been able to get it. To come out here and do it in front of this crazy crowd, it's incredible. I don't even know how to explain it."
Oregon's only other women's outdoor title came in 1985, led by the likes of Claudette Groenendaal, Kathy Hayes, Leann Warren and Quenna Beasley. The Ducks finished second four consecutive years from 2009-12, and finally broke through on Saturday.
"We've been second at this one for a long time," Johnson said. "So for us to finally get one, on the anniversary of the '85 team, is pretty special."
With other teams unable to grab momentum, Oregon's biggest lingering threat as Saturday wore on was Texas A&M and its talented sprint crew. Luckily for Johnson and the Ducks, they had their superstar Prandini ready to go head-to-head with the Aggies.
The showdown began in the 100. Texas A&M's two entries finished fifth and eighth, five team points that were only half the 10 that Prandini earned for Oregon with her victory. Her start didn't provide much of an edge, but Prandini surged past Texas' Morolake Akinosun over her final five strides and leaned past Akinosun at the tape.
Final margin of victory: one one-hundredth of a second, 10.96 to 10.97.
Next on the track was Rogers. Clemson's Natoya Goule, the 2013 champ, went out well ahead of the 800 field as usual. Rogers demonstrated maturity beyond her years -- and some quality coaching -- by not taking the bait. She led the rest of the pack through the first 400, ignoring Goule.
In the backstretch, Rogers made her move, beginning to reel in Goule. Rogers took the lead in the Bowerman curve, then continued driving toward the finish line to cross in 1:59.71, a PR by nearly two seconds.
In winning, Rogers became the second freshman to win the NCAA Outdoor women's 800, and ran the fastest time in collegiate history by a freshman. She also fulfilled the primary accomplishment on a list of goals she wrote out in August, at the urging of coaches.
"Something gave me the confidence to write that down at the time," Rogers said. "I've kept it in my head since then [and] it was on my mirror. I just had to keep that in mind. Our coaches reminded us every day to stay focused on accomplishing our goal every day in practice."
Rogers also picked up her team, at a critical moment in the meet. Not only had the 4x100 relay been DQ'd, but freshman Nikki Hiltz was unable to steal a point in the 1,500 -- a double dose of bad news to start the meet that didn't necessarily auger a national championship.
Rogers changed all of that.
"Our team, we have each other's backs," Rogers said. "I just wanted to give back the happiness to those girls. They worked their butts off; those are my teammates, my sisters, and I wanted to work hard for them just as they've worked hard this whole year."
In turn, Prandini got a boost from Rogers' effort. Running in a new format that largely split up the men's and women's competitions -- and also condensed the meet schedule -- for the sake of a national TV audience, Prandini had to run three times within two hours.
Her final race, the 200, featured two more runners from Texas A&M. Oregon had just one more chance to score points, Molly Grabill, who was not on most form charts in the 5,000. Prandini could either wrap up the meet for the Ducks in the 200, or leave the window open for the Aggies.
Her response: A second-place finish in 22.21 seconds, while the A&M runners finished third and sixth. Oregon had clinched its first women's NCAA Outdoor title in 30 years.
"There's definitely some Hayward magic out there right now," Prandini said. "I watched Raevyn's race under the stands [prior to the 200], and I was so pumped for her. I knew I just needed to get out there on the track, run a good race and clinch the team title."
Mission accomplished. Crown jewel achieved.