By Rob Moseley
Oregon’s indoor track and field teams will be in Seattle on Saturday, kicking off the 2014 season with what amounts to a warm-up lap on the way to what the Ducks hope will be contention for national titles on both the women’s and men’s sides.
Saturday’s UW Indoor Preview will be the first step on the UO women’s path to a possible fifth straight NCAA title, matching the longest streak ever, by LSU (1993-97). And after a sixth-place finish last season, an Oregon men’s team stacked with seven returning all-Americans also has its sights set on the top of the podium.
“This team obviously is chasing an indoor title,” junior sprinter Jack Galpin said. “I think we have the right mix for it.”
In an indication of what Saturday’s meet means in the big picture, Galpin isn’t on the entry list, and nor are several other prominent UO veterans. The UW Indoor Preview will be a “rust-buster” for Oregon’s returning athletes, and the chance for some prominent newcomers to make their collegiate debuts.
“In my mind, we have a lot of good pieces,” returning all-American Laura Roesler said of the UO women’s team. “We just kind of need to see how they’re going to do indoors in their first meets.”
Reflecting the fact the men’s side returns more NCAA scorers, the UO men were ranked No. 3 nationally in the preseason, while the women are No. 4 entering Saturday’s first meet of the indoor season.
Both squads seem to be taking the long view about the season, quietly confident they’ll be in the mix for the NCAA title come March.
“We haven’t really talked about it that much as a team,” junior pole vaulter Sammie Clark said. “But I think all of us are thinking about it. I haven’t gone to nationals yet, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to help this year, and kind of help (the streak ending) not happen.”
“We have the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” senior distance runner Trevor Dunbar said. “… All in all, it’s just a really well-rounded team in all the events. And it’s a pretty mature team – everyone’s looking forward to one race at a time, and is going to be ready to go for the championships.”
That methodical approach to the season begins this weekend, as Dunbar also is putting off his indoor debut until later this month. Though healthy for the last nine months after being dogged by injuries last season, the two-time cross country all-American will wait to begin racing with the rest of Oregon’s distance crew, which is wrapping up its recovery from the fall cross country season.
Roesler, the runner-up in the 800 meters at last year’s NCAA Indoor meet, was entered in the mile Saturday, providing her a longer workout under race conditions.
“The beginning of the season kind of makes you nervous, because you never really know where you’re at,” Roesler said. “You know you’ve been training for a long time, so it will be nice to break up all the training. But it’s kind of nerve-racking; this is when you find out how much your training has paid off.”
If Roesler expects to be nervous, Oregon’s newcomers must be doubly so. The Ducks will unveil pieces of the nation’s top-rated recruiting class on both the men’s and women’s sides, notably in the sprints.
Among the women entered in a collegiate race for the first time are sprinters Marybeth Sant, Christian Brennen and Jordie Munford, and Haley Crouser, a javelin star outdoors who will attempt the pentathlon indoors. The new UO men’s participants include the likes of sprinter Marcus Chambers, 400 runner Ben Thiel, Mitch Modin in the hurdles and pole vault, and football wide receiver Devon Allen in the 60 meters and 60 hurdles.
“It’s a chance to see some of them compete … get the jitters out, stop practicing against each other so much,” UO coach Robert Johnson said. “See if they can take some of the things they’ve learned in practice and apply them in competitive situations.”
And see if they can take the first step toward contributing to championship chases this spring.