EUGENE, Ore. -- Entering the final day of men's competition in the NCAA championships, the Ducks had the ultimate ace in the hole. Or make that aces: Edward Cheserek, Eric Jenkins and Will Geoghegan in Friday's penultimate event at Hayward Field, the 5,000 meters.
Whatever happened the rest of the day, Oregon knew it could count on big points from that trio.
What the Ducks didn't know was that, as it turned out, they wouldn't need them.Cheserek, Jenkins and Geoghegan nearly repeated their 1-2-3 finish from the NCAA indoor 3,000, running 1-2-4 on Friday. That gave the Ducks 23 points -- in a meet they won by 29 versus their closest competition. Thanks to surprising second-place finishes by Johnathan Cabral in the 110 hurdles and Marcus Chambers in the 400, Oregon had the team title all but wrapped up before the 5,000 even began.
"Great day for the Ducks," said UO coach Robert Johnson, who celebrated Oregon's second consecutive NCAA outdoor title, and seventh overall. "Great day to be a Duck. Great day, all Duckies. Unbelievable performance."
Nursing a first-day lead but wary of potential SEC spoilers Florida, Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU, the host Ducks saw nearly everything go as well as expected or better. None of the competition could get on a roll the way Oregon did.
The Ducks' series of pleasant surprises began in the 1,500, as freshman Blake Haney took third. On track to redshirt midway through this season, the freshman instead capped a meteoric rise by running 3 minutes, 55.12 seconds for six points toward the team score; he became just the fourth freshman since 1999 to finish third or better in the 1,500.
Two events later, Cabral followed up Devon Allen's national title in the 110 hurdles last season by taking second, parlaying an exceptional start into a wind-aided time of 13.22. And two events after that, Chambers stayed relaxed through the windy back stretch, then unleashed a furious kick to finish second in the 400 in 45.59.
"Blake had a great race -- I was excited for him," Chambers said. "And then Cabral came out and took second, ran great. That just gave me more energy for my race. We're all just doing what we can, feeding off each other."
Chambers was one of five Ducks who scored for the UO national-title teams both indoors and outdoors this season. But this week's effort was much more balanced. The indoor title came largely due to Oregon's distance runners; the same can't be said of the contributions outdoors.
"We don't want to always rely on Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins," Chambers said. "They're great runners, we all know that. But we want to show people that other people on our team can score, too."
By the time the 5,000 runners were toeing the line for the start, only Arkansas remained a threat. The Razorbacks trailed Oregon by 18 points, with the potential to get 10 in each of the last two races.
Conceivably the Ducks could have come out of the 5,000 with no points, and thus Arkansas remained mathematically alive.
Less than 15 minutes later, those hopes were dead. Cheserek won in 13:48.67, Jenkins was second in 13:48.92 — repeating their 1-2 finish in the 10,000 on Wednesday — and Geoghegan was fourth in 13:49.35.
The duo of Cheserek and Jenkins capped a remarkable year-plus in which they helped lead Oregon to two NCAA outdoor titles and one indoors, combining on 10 individual titles in the process if cross country is included.
"The training [together], really, it's everything," said Jenkins, a senior who ran his last collegiate race. "So when you go into races, it almost feels like another day -- especially since it's a home. Coming into the last lap, when it gets tough and you see your teammates around -- I've said it a thousand times and I'll say it again, you just get a sense of relaxation."
The 23 points from the 5k gave Oregon 85 for the meet -- three fewer than its NCAA record set a year earlier.
Cheserek's double this week in the 5,000 and 10,000 gave him eight career individual titles -- one more than the great Steve Prefontaine.
"I think it's amazing," said Cheserek, who along with thrower Greg Skipperscored for all four of Oregon's title teams during the past two years -- two each indoor and outdoor. "I'm trying to write my name, to be a legend like him one day."
That day may come sooner rather than later. But Friday was about Oregon as a team, and form chart-busting efforts by the likes of Cabral and Chambers that made it a runaway for the Ducks in the NCAA championships.