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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – The Men of Oregon placed four runners in the top 31 to rally for a runner-up finish at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships Monday at the Lavern Gibson Championship Course.
For the Ducks, who entered the race as the two-time defending NCAA champions, but only ranked eighth in the national polls, Monday’s race marked the school’s third straight NCAA trophy. That’s Oregon’s best stretch at the NCAA Championships since finishing in the top two for four consecutive years between 1976-79.
The Oregon women finished ninth.
“Our men just ran a terrific race,” said Associate Athletic Director Vin Lananna. “It’s always a good accomplishment when you can leave these championships with a trophy.
“It was a disappointing day for our women, but when you consider that neither program was even at this meet four years ago, to finish second and ninth isn’t too bad.”
Sophomore Luke Puskedra led the men with a 21st-place finish in 30:01.9. Junior Matthew Centrowitz ran 27th in 30:09.5, senior Kenny Klotz was 29th in 30:13.9 and junior Danny Mercado was 29th in 30:15.4.
“We knew what we were capable of doing,” said Mercado. “We just wanted to go out and prove that we’re a good team.”
Senior Diego Mercado’s 61st-place showing in 30:34.4 rounded out the scoring for the Ducks, who finished just 16 points behind No. 2 Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys won with 127 points, followed by Oregon with 143 points. No. 3 Alabama was third with 173 points, followed by No. 13 Northern Arizona (190) and No. 7 William & Mary (226). Top-ranked Stanford ended up 10th with 354 points.
Liberty’s Sam Chelanga, runner-up to Galen Rupp a year ago, won the individual title in a course-record 28:41.3.
Oregon steadily worked its way up the scoreboard. On the first loop, Puskedra opened the race near the lead pack, with Klotz about 40th and Centrowitz and the Mercado twins in the middle of the field.
The Ducks made their move just before the midpoint, with Puskedra near the top 10 and Klotz, Danny Mercado and Centrowitz climbing into the top 40.
With 2,000 meters remaining, Puskedra was 20th, with Centrowitz, Klotz and Danny Mercado all around 25th, before the four Oregon runners finished within :14 of each other.
It was the best career NCAA finish for Centrowitz, Klotz and Danny Mercado, who joined Puskedra in earning All-America honors.
“It felt good to go out and run like we know we can,” said Centrowitz. “The way we were racing lately really didn’t represent Oregon the way we wanted to.”
The Duck women were led by Jordan Hasay’s 18th-place finish in 20:23.1. The freshman from Arroyo Grande, Calif., won the first All-America award of her young career.
“The pace went out really quick,” said Hasay. “The last kilometer, I just tried to be tough. I wanted to finish in the top 10, but I can’t be too disappointed.”
No. 2 Villanova won the race with 86 points, with No. 8 Florida State taking second with 133 points. Top-ranked Washington was third with 188 points, followed by No. 9 Texas Tech (191) and No. 3 Princeton (251).
Angela Bizzarri of Illinois was the individual winner in 19:46.8.
In addition to Hasay, the Ducks, who had five of seven runners making their NCAA Championships debuts, counted a 48th-place finish from senior Nicole Blood (20:54.6), an 81st-place finish from junior Alexandra Kosinski (21:10.5), an 87th-place finish from sophomore Claire Michel (21:12.6) and a 103rd-place showing from senior Lauren Zaludek (21:19.2) for their 276 total.
“Sometimes you have these days,” said Blood. “We have a great group of women and we know we’re better than that.”