It was a historic night for Oregon track and field as both the men and women’s teams were crowned NCAA Indoor Champions, Saturday. The men’s team sealed its first championship since 2009 after a strong showing in the 3,000, while the women used every last meter to claim five-straight NCAA Indoor titles, making them only the second team in meet history to accomplish the feat.
“Our teams did an absolutely amazing job in fighting to the end today,” said head coach Robert Johnson. “They never let the small things bother them. They never got too high, they never got too low, they did everything we asked them to do and we couldn’t be any prouder.”
Heading into the final event of the night, the Women of Oregon trailed both Texas and Florida by 1.5 points, setting up a winner-take-all 4x400 relay.
The race was a battle between Texas and Oregon, with each of the Ducks’ first three legs, Chizoba Okodogbe, Laura Roesler and Christian Brennan, staying tight behind their Longhorn counterpart. But Oregon had one thing that Texas did not, the American and Collegiate 400-meter indoor record holder, Phyllis Francis.
Francis set the record, Saturday, taking an individual championship in open 400 with an American record, collegiate record and world-leading time of 50.46. Her mark is also the fastest time in the world since 2007 and is the first 400 National Championship in Oregon women’s history.
Ninety minutes later, she was back on the track accepting the baton from Brennan and erasing the slight edge held by 2013 World Championships silver medalist Ashley Spencer. Francis surged down the final home stretch and crossed the line in 3:27.40, the 10th fastest time ever run by a 4x400 team. It was a lean and .02 seconds which gave the 4x400 those records, and the women of Oregon their fifth-straight championship trophy.
“The only thing we were focused on was winning,” said Roesler. “I think it shows how hard we’ve worked. You can see the emotion on our relay team’s faces because we knew we not only won, but we won the whole sha-bang.”
The Men of Oregon’s team title was won in less dramatic fashion, but was no less sweet. The team finished with a school record 62 points, coming from all across the board as all twelve Ducks who competed in Albuquerque scored from the team.
“This year we have been so focused on building the team, and the team atmosphere,” said heptathlon All-American Dakotah Keys. “I think that’s a big part of why we are so successful right now. Everybody is here backing each other up. It’s all about being a part of the team.”
Oregon’s strongest event heading into the night was 3,000 meter with Edward Cheserek, Trevor Dunbar and Parker Stinson in the field, and the Ducks had a chance to shut the door with one event left.
Cheserek completed his double-event sweep in the 3,000 and 5,000, finishing with a time of 8:11.59. The freshman is now 3-for-3 in NCAA Championship races, as he won the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championship last fall. Dunbar added a fifth-place finish to give the Ducks an insurmountable 11-point lead over defending-champion Arkansas heading into their 4x400 where the Ducks placed sixth.
The women’s team entered the day tied for 14th but knew there were points to be had. Francis in the 400 was the first to score, Saturday, followed by Jasmine Todd and Jenna Prandini in the 60. Todd took third with a personal-best time of 7.16, the second fastest in school history. Prandini gave the Ducks two more points with a seventh-place finish in 7.32.
Roesler, who placed second in the 800 last year, was the final piece which put Oregon in a position to claim the trophy when she picked up her first individual National Championship in the 800. The senior made her move with 150 meters remaining, and won going away in 2:03.85.
Keys continued his strong showing at the championships and saved a burst for his last event. Keys entered the 1,000 in sixth place, but ran 2:42.67 and finished second in the event overall, bumping him to fourth in the final standings with 5,942 points, the second-highest total in school history behind collegiate record holder Ashton Eaton. The Sweet Home, Ore., native set a personal best in three events over the two-day competition.
Oregon’s lead continued to grow early, as Mac Fleet, Johnathan Cabral and Mike Berry combined for 16 points in the first three running events of the evening.
Fleet moved well over the final 200 meters but ran out of room at the end to move up further, and finished third in 4:02.96.
After tying the school record, Friday night, Cabral was poised to break it on Saturday, which he did in 7.65. The time was good enough for fourth place, an improvement upon his 2013 sixth-place finish in the event and five valuable team points.
Mike Berry tied his own school record of 45.64 in the 400 to finish fourth in the event and further build the team cushion heading into the 3,000.
At the end of two days, the Ducks amassed 28 First Team All-America awards, the most in school history. Roesler, who earned two All-America honors this weekend, became the most decorated All-American in Oregon track and field history with 15 total honors.