EUGENE, Ore. -- In the eyes of Oregon coach Robert Johnson, Oregon mostly held form Wednesday to open the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field championships -- which doesn't sound overwhelming, until you consider that "form" included two individual titles.
The day began with points from hammer thrower Greg Skipper, but over the next couple of hours the Ducks didn't see many on the bubble to score break through. The program's momentum changed in a rousing stretch of about 10 minutes late in the day, putting Oregon in strong contention for its second consecutive team title when the men's portion of the meet concludes Friday.As twilight neared at Hayward Field, Sam Crouser was finishing off his second consecutive javelin title. Meanwhile, on the track, Edward Cheserek led teammate Eric Jenkins through a 1-2 finish in the 10,000 meters. Those finishes weren't unexpected -- but they also weren't easy.
"It's tough to do -- even though it's predicted and you're expected, it's still pressure," Jenkins said. "We need these points. It's a big relief."
The event titles for Crouser and Cheserek, plus Jenkins' second and a third place by Skipper, gave Oregon 34 team points. Dakotah Keys enters Thursday in prime position to add points in the decathlon, the only men's competition prior to Friday under a new format that splits up the bulk of the men's and women's events.
Cheserek and Jenkins will be back in action Friday in the 5,000 meters, joining a handful of teammates in other events. The Ducks will try to hold off the talented sprinters from Florida, who loom in second with 16 points.
"Today wasn't the main concern," Jenkins said. "Friday's going to be a tough race, a tough day, and the most important one. We're just trying to get recovered and ready for that 5k."
For much of Wednesday's 10k, the pace was accommodating. Cheserek was fifth and Jenkins was ninth about 3,000 meters in, before the pace slowed and the field condensed. Midway through the race, Craig Lutz of Texas tried to enforce a more honest pace, with Jason Witt of BYU and Cheserek going with him.
"I was just waiting for someone to come push it, and then sit back," said Cheserek, a sophomore who won his seventh NCAA individual title. "I wasn't worried about leading the race. Just waiting for somebody to take it."
That trio gapped the field a bit, but Jenkins reeled them in and made the lead group a quartet. With three laps to go, he took the lead followed by Cheserek, and they held those positions until Cheserek kicked to the front with about 100 to go. He won in 28 minutes, 58.92 seconds, followed by Jenkins in 28:59.13.
At about the same time, Crouser was wrapping up the javelin. He took a commanding lead on his third throw, of 256 feet, 4 inches. As it turned out, the only man to better that was Crouser himself, who threw 259-9 on his fifth throw for the winning mark.
Crouser's third attempt followed a massive throw easily beyond 80 meters -- his winning effort was 79.19 -- that was disallowed when he chopped his steps and just barely scratched. Rather than be disheartened by the non-counting mark, Crouser said he gained some confidence.
"If you foul a big one, you know you can throw a big one," he said. "It's different if you foul one way out of bounds, something like that. But it was barely anything. I knew I had it in me, and I just had to move my steps back a little bit."
Crouser was the second UO thrower to provide team points Wednesday, after Skipper improved on consecutive NCAA outdoor fourth-place finishes by taking third in the hammer. He threw a personal best 233-9, the junior finishing behind only two seniors.
"With the week of practice leading up, I felt really good," Skipper said. "I knew there was something in the tank, and was able to find it. I'm just really happy to start the team off this way. ... Hopefully this gets momentum going."
For the next few hours, that wasn't necessarily the case. Johnathan Cabral and Marcus Chambers advanced to finals in the 110 hurdles and 400 meters, respectively. But several Ducks missed advancing to event finals by just a place or two -- Tanguy Pepiot in the 3,000 steeplechase, Arthur Delaney in the 200, Trevor Ferguson and Nate Moore in the long jump.
Most form charts didn't project big points in those events, but every point is crucial with an NCAA title on the line, and would have been gladly welcomed.
An exception was the 1,500 meters. The Ducks were cautiously optimistic they could qualify all three of their runners, and the trio of Daniel Winn, Johnny Gregorek and Blake Haney obliged. Winn took second in a bumpy first heat, in 3:45.78, before Haney and Gregorek went 2-3 in the faster second heat. Each recorded a PR, with Haney crossing in 3:40.81 and Gregorek following in 3:40.89.
The Ducks missed out on some other chances to bust the experts' form charts, but the trio in the 1,500 has a chance to do that come Friday.
"We're all about winning this team title," Gregorek said. "It's just an opportunity to get a lot of points, and we're all excited to get out there and finish as high as we can."