EUGENE, Ore. -- This past winter, Oregon was preparing for the NCAA indoor championships, and UO senior Laura Roesler was asked to assess the Ducks’ chances at a fifth consecutive title.
Winning would take a group effort, she said. UO would have to “nickel and dime and scrap more” for points, in the absence of stars like Jordan Hasay and English Gardner who had contributed significantly toward the Ducks’ previous national indoor team titles.“There’s not really a couple big names standing out,” Roesler said.
But wait, someone said. Isn’t “Laura Roesler” a pretty big name?
“I’m trying to make it one,” she said finally, after seeming caught off-guard by the notion.
She shouldn’t have been. Few resumes in UO track and field history rival that of Roesler. She’s a 15-time all-American who has won three consecutive Pac-12 titles in the 800 meters. On Wednesday, Roesler began the quest for a final feather in her cap, when she qualified for the final round of the 800 meters in the NCAA outdoor championship meet at Hayward Field.
The final is scheduled for Friday, and Roesler -- who finished with a qualifying-best time of 2 minutes, 2.62 seconds on Wednesday -- is a favorite to win, after taking the NCAA Indoor title during the winter.
Despite that national championship, Roesler said she still considers herself “just another face on the team.” Form charts for this week’s meet, which universally list Roesler winning the women’s 800, tell another story.
“Part of me wants to say, ‘I’m here to win, I’m not lining up to lose this race, this is my home track,’” Roesler acknowledged. “I need to know how good I can be, and be confident in myself. But you can only take that so far before it’s off-putting and cocky.
“Coming in as a favorite, I know the expectations for myself. It’s easier for me to deal with that if I stay relaxed, and still think of myself as 16, not a care in the world.”
It was at that age when Roesler first took Hayward Field by storm, running 2:04.3 in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. Her accomplishments since are myriad -- a personal-best 2:00.23 in finishing fifth at the 2013 U.S. Outdoor championships, and an NCAA-leading 2:00.54 this season.
Roesler took a couple shots at running under 2 minutes this spring. At the NCAA meet, that won’t be on her mind (and without a rabbit to lead the field or other competitors pushing the pace that hard, it seems unlikely).
Megan Malasarte of Georgia had the top time in the nation in the NCAA preliminary meets two weeks ago, crossing in 2:02.31. Roesler qualified second in 2:03.01.
“We’re running to win; time would just be a bonus,” said Roesler, who still finds reason to remind her Twitter followers her name is pronounced RACE-ler, which should be easy to remember considering how often she wins races.
The Ducks will be in the thick of the running for a team title to pair with their NCAA indoor trophy. Various form charts have Oregon just off the lead for first place, or finishing several places behind the team champion.
Roesler will do her part in the 800, and contribute to the 4x400 relay team, which qualified first to this week’s meet in 3:27.34 after winning the NCAA indoor title.
“We’re going to fight tooth and nail,” Roesler said of the relay squad, which used a sizzling final leg from Phyllis Francis to edge Texas by two-hundredths of a second at the indoor championships. “It’s going to be a crazy fight, and I think it’s going to be more fun than anything.”
The drama of winning the 4x400 title at the wire in that meet overshadowed Roesler’s 800 crown, even in her own mind. She said that’s a product of the culture UO coach Robert Johnson and his staff have instilled in the Ducks.
“We’ve worked hard as a program to be a team program, to be well-rounded,” Roesler said. “You come into this program and know it’s a team effort, not just individuals going out there.”
That said, when Roesler toes the line Friday, she’ll do so alone, and bearing the weight of expectations.
“I need to step up and do my job, no question about it,” she said.
Maybe then, Roesler will convince herself she deserves mention with the likes of Hasay and Gardner. Everyone else who follows UO track and field already is convinced.