By Ben DeJarnette
UO track and field
I watched my teammates deliver a near-flawless performance at the NCAA Indoor Championships this past weekend, sprinting to points in the 60-meter hurdles, dominating the 5,000-meter race, and dazzling at almost every distance in between. For the past five years, I have trained alongside these Men of Oregon ― relishing a front-row view of their growth into a national force.
Three years ago, they scored eight points at the indoor championship meet. In Albuquerque this year, they tallied 62, winning the NCAA team title for the first time since 2009. Watching the guys lift the trophy into the air, I found myself proud of more than their victory. Most of all, I was proud of the journey they’d traveled to earn it.
It is a journey that brought these 12 men to Eugene from as far as Kenya (Edward Cheserek) and Ethiopia (Boru Guyota), and as near as Sweet Home (Dakotah Keys) and Medford (Jack Galpin). A few enjoyed immediate success as Ducks. The others charted a more winding route to the top of the podium.
Parker Stinson knows that path better than most. On Friday night, he used a furious finishing kick to finish third in the 5,000 ― the best NCAA performance of his career. Parker’s burst of speed reached a crescendo with 200 meters to go, but it didn’t start there.
That kick started two years earlier in Idaho, where the winner of the 5,000 crossed the finish line before Parker had even hit the bell lap. It started on early morning runs in Hendricks Park, tearing up hills while the less ambitious jogged the flats.
It started with his 240th-place finish on the NCAA cross country course in Louisville. He finished ahead of only five runners that day, but 240th place didn’t define him. Finishing did.
For others, the journey to this weekend’s championship had less to do with reaching the finish than with making it to the starting line.
Two years ago, Mac Fleet hadn’t raced in 12 months, his powerful 6-foot-3 frame hobbled by a couple inches of piercing pain along the bottom of his foot. As Andy Bayer became the first non-Oregon miler in three years to win the NCAA 1,500-meter crown, Mac rode the bike, swam in the pool and kept his dream alive, no matter how faint it had become.
After months of stop-and-start recovery, his return to competition was nothing short of remarkable. He went undefeated at Hayward Field last spring, capping the comeback season with a 1,500-meter national title on his home track.
Now Mac is a team captain, and his Ducks are team champions.
In a sport where wins and losses are determined by individual performances, the notion of a “team” victory is sometimes difficult to capture. Is a track team more than the sum of its parts? Does it take teamwork to win a team title?
Let Trevor Dunbar illustrate the answers.
Entering the final weekend of regular-season competition, he was the only Oregon runner with a 3,000-meter time fast enough to qualify for NCAAs. Instead of resting his legs for the national meet or chasing the MPSF 3,000-meter crown, Trevor ran the event as a rabbit, scrapping his own race plan to help Parker and Edward earn spots in the NCAA field.
On Saturday, Ed won the title. Trevor finished fifth. The 14 combined points clinched the team championship for Oregon.
Having witnessed the heroic journey they travelled to get there, I couldn’t be more proud.
Ben DeJarnette is a redshirt senior with the UO track and field program, and a five-time Pac-12 all-academic selection. He is enrolled in the UO School of Journalism and Communication's Media Studies Master's Program, having been awarded a $7,500 postgraduate scholarship by the NCAA as one of "the Association's most accomplished student-athletes."