by Rob Moseley
This weekend's trip east for the Oregon cross country teams will be eye-opening in many ways.
The third-ranked UO women and No. 12 Duck men will compete in earnest for the first time this fall, beginning their respective chases for NCAA hardware. They'll do so against BC Eagles Invitational fields sprinkled with three other ranked teams on each side.
Following Friday's races, the Ducks will go sight-seeing Saturday with coaches and Boston-area natives Andy Powell and Maurica Powell. Among the landmarks they'll see is one of the most hallowed, and now solemn, places in American distance running, the finish of the Boston Marathon.
"Usually we're so rushed on these trips because of school," Andy Powell said. "It's nice we can see some of that stuff."
The Oregon women are coming off an NCAA Championship season, and will forge a new identity after the graduation of all-time great Jordan Hasay. The team competing this weekend includes three runners with championship experience, including top returner Sarah Penney, New England native Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunkport, Maine, and Molly Grabill, who competed in the 2011 NCAA meet and redshirted last season.
On the men's side, the Ducks will look for leadership from senior returning all-American Parker Stinson, and an experienced group of veterans including juniors Jeramy Elkaim and Ryan Pickering, and sophomores Matthew Melancon and Chris Brewer. Oregon finished 20th at the NCAA Championships last fall.
"We have a young team — it's a very talented team, but a young team," Powell said of the men's side. "The first race is really a chance to take a look at some of these younger guys, see where we're at and what we need to improve on."
Among the UO runners who won't compete this weekend are returning all-American Mac Fleet, who endured a taxing track season in the spring; Northeastern transfer Eric Jenkins; and two transfers to the women's team from Connecticut, Lindsay Crevoiserat and Julia Zrinyi.
The Oregon teams are coming off an encouraging three weeks of training and team bonding in Sunriver, like Saturday's sight-seeing trip a schedule made possible by the late start of Oregon's fall academic term, next week. But they'll have to bounce back quickly from the Boston meet, with their home event, the Bill Dellinger Invitational, only eight days later, mirroring the time between the NCAA Regional and NCAA Championship races.
For the Powells, the homecoming this weekend will be welcome. But they're most excited about the chance to see their teams in action against some top competition from outside the West Coast, and for the recruiting exposure a race back East can provide.
Along with the No. 3 Ducks, the women's field includes top-ranked Providence, No. 9 Cornell and No. 24 Boston College. The men's field includes not only No. 12 Oregon but No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 9 Syracuse and No. 25 Providence. The UO teams will quickly learn how they stack up against some of the nation's elite, with the opportunity to notch key head-to-head victory points, which are crucial in terms of the NCAA Championship selection process in November.
And then, Saturday, the teams will tour Boston. They won't have to go far to see the finish line of the marathon; their hotel this weekend isn't far from the place where, this past April, a twin bombing marred one of the greatest days on the American distance running calendar.
"It hit our whole team when that happened — those from the East Coast maybe even a little bit closer to home," said Powell, who visited the site this summer. "My wife and I will get a chance to make sure they see the finish line."
On a weekend in which there's much to be learned for Oregon's cross country teams, that's one experience that's not to be missed.