By Rob Moseley
Her burden next week is heavy enough to be worthy of a broad-shouldered thrower from the Oregon track and field program.
Instead, Jenna Prandini will use her fleet feet and springy legs in attempting to score in four events at the NCAA Outdoor championships. The meet begins Wednesday at Hayward Field.
Prandini, a redshirt sophomore, will have a huge say in the Ducks’ attempt at their first outdoor team title since 1985. The reigning Pac-12 champion in the 100 meters, 200 and long jump will be in contention to win all three events next week, along with running a leg on Oregon’s 4x100 team.
“It’s a chance for me to score points for the team,” Prandini said while sitting trackside at Hayward Field before a recent practice session. “It’s definitely a load I can handle and there’s no better place to do it, with the fans here to cheer me on.”
Based on results from the two NCAA preliminary meets last week – Oregon competed in Fayetteville, Ark. – Prandini is the top qualifier in the long jump. She flew to a personal-best 21 feet, 4 ½ inches at the regional event.
Prandini’s qualifying time of 11.17 seconds in the 100 was second nationally, and her 22.73 in the 200 was fourth. She also helped the Ducks run the 4x100 in 43.47 seconds, making them the No. 2 qualifier to the national championships.
Now the two-time Pac-12 champ in the 100, Prandini said there’s “nothing better than stepping to the line and running in front of” the Hayward Field crowd in the sprints. But at the moment she’s particularly pleased with her long jumping, having learned to deal with limited practice reps for the sake of her busy schedule.
“I don’t know what clicked,” she said. “I just think the more I did it, the more comfortable I was.”
The long jump competition will highlight Prandini’s busiest session of the four-day NCAA meet. The opening day, Wednesday, will feature the long jump as well as qualifying rounds of the 4x100 and 100.
Preliminaries for the 200 are Thursday, and the 100 final is Friday. On Saturday, the meet’s closing session, the finals of the 4x100 and 200 will be staged. If all goes as planned, Prandini thus will be in action all four days of the championship meet.
“I know the team is counting on a lot of things from me – but we’re counting on things from a lot of people,” Prandini said. “It eases my mind to know it’s not just me. All of us are going to have to do it together.”
Prandini’s national meet has the chance to cap a meteoric rise to prominence with the Ducks.
She redshirted in 2012, using that spring to recover from a stress fracture in her foot. During that time Prandini also developed a close bond with her predecessor as the face of UO female sprinting, English Gardner.
“She was teaching me what it took to be a great athlete,” Prandini said. “I think that’s really helped me. Physically and mentally, I think I grew a lot from the injury.”
Prandini said she came to understand the importance of “all the little things” in her development. Things like getting enough sleep, and proper nutrition. She became more attuned to the stresses on her body, knowing what she could push through and what to call to the attention of coaches.
Given her heavy workload next week, those are critically important elements.
“We strain our bodies so much over the course of the year, if we’re not doing everything we can to take care of ourselves, injuries are going to happen,” Prandini said.
Prandini progressed back from the foot injury last spring, winning the Pac-12 100-meter title after Gardner was disqualified for a false start. She was seventh in the event at the NCAA Outdoor meet.
Bigger things are expected next week. Track & Field News projects Prandini to win the 100 this year, and to finish second in the 200 and long jump. Oregon’s 4x100 quartet is projected to finish third.
Those would be huge points toward the Ducks’ team total, perhaps even enough on which to build a team title. That’s a heavy load, but one Prandini is happy to bear.
“The coaches know what I can do, and what I can handle,” she said. “I think it’s worked out.”