by Rob Moseley
Growing up as a thrower in Astoria on the Oregon coast, Laura Bobek dreamed of one day setting the Ducks' school record in the discus.
On Thursday, in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field, Bobek was down to the final attempt of her career with that dream unrealized. Then, she unleashed a throw that finally cemented her coveted place in the UO record book — and might just have propelled the Ducks back into contention for the team title.
A surprise finalist after throwing 177 feet on her first attempt, Bobek followed with a personal best 180-5 on her fifth attempt and then a school record 184-8 on her final throw. That put her in third place and gave Oregon six team points at the national meet.
A day after the Ducks lost their 4x100 relay on a missed exchange and only qualified one of two anticipated finalists in the 800, Bobek's big throws and the advancement of Sarah Penney to the 1,500 final turned around Oregon's fortunes Thursday. The Ducks were in first with 19 points through two days, with much left to be decided in the final two.
"Yesterday wasn't as planned, but it was only day one, and that kind of stuff always happens in championship meets," said UO senior Laura Roesler, who will race for the 800 title Friday. "For Laura to make up those points for the 4x1 was huge. And then Sarah, icing on the cake with her having a shot at a top eight spot. So we're right back to where we want to be."
Roesler anchored the UO 4x400 team through the semifinals Thursday, and long jump champion Jenna Prandini was the top qualifier in the 200 at 22.95 seconds. About the only thing that didn't go the Ducks' way was the 100 hurdles, in which freshman Sasha Wallace didn't advance.
Prandini will run for the 100 title Friday, and for the UO women to challenge for the team title they may need a win. The Ducks also could use a title from Roesler, and perhaps from Phyllis Francis in the 400 too.
The women of Oregon said Wednesday they planned to quickly turn the page on that day's disappointments. Bobek took that to heart early in Thursday's session with her big first throw, sitting second at the end of the first flight, and fourth following the second.
Bobek briefly dropped down to fifth before vaulting back up the standings with the final throw of her career. She said a few throws over 180 feet in practice Monday had her feeling confident entering Thursday.
"I'm just really excited, and sad at the same time," said Bobek, who was greeted with hugs and congratulations from Prandini and assistant coach Maurica Powell after her post-event interview. "It's my last year, but I like going out this way, and I'm happy to get points for the team."
Penney endured a rough ride in her section of the 1,500 semifinals. She surged to a fifth-place finish in 4:18.10, automatically advancing to Saturday's final by being a top-five finisher.
"Honestly, all I remember is getting pushed around," Penney said of her heat, in which several runners checked their strides due to contact throughout the race. "Everyone was getting pushed around. It was tactical, it was windy. I just told myself to stay calm. Even if I was dead last most of the race, it would open up."
Penney dropped to the back of the field at the start. She hoped to start her kick with a few hundred meters left but ran into traffic and dropped back again, rather than take a wide trip around the track.
"I do sprint workouts sometimes with Laura Roesler," Penney said. "I figured, if I can keep up with her, I can pass some people at the end."
Roesler put speed of her own to use, anchoring the 4x400 team home in a time of 3:31.35. Francis didn't compete in the semifinal, but will be available for Saturday's final.
Running with a new lineup, the Ducks were near the back of the pack after the first leg but made up the time and finished second to automatically advance.
"We knew what we needed to do and we came out and got the job done," Roesler said. "It wasn't about doing anything amazing, just being top two, and that's what we did."