EUGENE — After the first day of the women’s NCAA Track and Field Championships, the Eugene Register-Guard ran a headline proclaiming, “Ducks in contention.”
And for a short time on Day 2 that headline held true.
Oregon earned eight points with a second-place finish in the 400-meter relay in 43.06 seconds, nipping Pac-12 rival USC by .05 seconds.
Oregon added 10 points as Jessica Hull, to the roar of the crowd, won the 1,500 meters in a personal best 4:08.75.
With eight of 21 events scored (six from Day 1) the Oregon women vaulted into second place in the team standings.
More opportunities were in store for the Ducks to pile on the points. Not to be.
In the 100-meter hurdles, Alaysha Johnson was seeded fourth and finished seventh. In the 100-meter final, 2016 NCAA champion Ariana Washington had a dismal start and finished last.
Oregon had two entrants in the 400 meters. Makenzie Dunmore was seeded third and Briyahna DesRosiers eighth. With 100 meters to go the seedings were holding true.
Then disaster struck for Dunmore, as she fell 20 meters from the finish. To her credit she crawled and stumbled across the finish line in eighth. DesRosiers moved up to sixth.
Form charts had senior Sabrina Southerland predicted to finish no lower than second in the 800 meters. All looked well until the last 200, when the field went by and she struggled to a seventh-place finish.
With a scoring system where the top eight placers earn points, it was reasonable for the Oregon women to earn at least 20 points in those four events. They came away with seven. Not until the last two races did the Ducks pick up points.
In the 5,000 meters, Oregon’s Lilli Burdon finished third, and the Ducks took third in the 1,600-meter relay. They finished seventh in the team standings with 39 points and could only lament the points that got away.
As the meet was winding down, the crowd of 12,998 was treated to a fantastic team race. After the high jump and triple jump points were added, the team standings had Georgia with 50 points, followed by USC (43), Kentucky (41) and Stanford (40).
Left to be scored were the discus, 5,000 meters and long relay. Of the top four teams, only Stanford’s Valarie Allman was in the discus and leading at 194 feet, 3 inches. Sitting in third, Shadae Lawrence of Kansas State threw 195-9 to take the lead. Next up, Maggie Ewen of Arizona State, second in the 2017 championships, flung the platter 198-5, moving her to first.
Allman could not muster a better toss, yet her third-place finish and six points gave Stanford 46 points and moved the Cardinal ahead of USC and Kentucky.
Both Georgia and Stanford had entrants in the 5,000 final. Kentucky and USC could only watch. Stanford needed to win to have a shot at the team title, and Georgia required at least a fifth-place finish to salt the team victory.
Certainly knowing the situation, Stanford’s Vanessa Fraser took the lead with two laps remaining in hopes of securing 10 team points. Jessica Drop of Georgia moved to keep in contention, and they finished with Fraser in fourth place and Drop in seventh, earning five and two points respectively for their teams.
Down to the last event, the team scores were Georgia 52, Stanford 51, USC 43 and Kentucky 41. USC and Kentucky had teams in the 1,600 relay. If USC could win the race, the Trojans would be team champions.
After the first two legs, Purdue was in control. At the final exchange, Purdue was still leading with Oregon and USC neck-and-neck. The Women of Troy mishandled their exchange and by the time they recovered they were a distant fourth.
Over the last 100 meters, USC passed Kentucky and slid by Oregon. Georgia athletes and fans must have been holding their breath. Kendall Ellis of USC, with a 50.05 split, ran down Jahneya Mitchell of Purdue to eke out the win, 3:27.06 to 3:27.13. Ten points and a team championship for USC.
What a thrilling end to competition at Hayward Field. In a short time, the heavy equipment will move in and the venue, as we know it, will be taken apart as room is made for a new stadium. Sad, for the memories will live and new ones will be created when the big meets return to Eugene, Track Town USA.
Neil Branson is the former track and cross country coach at Seaside High School, and a regular attendee of big meets at Hayward Field.