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Women ready for national prestige

Do you hate the Washington Huskies?

Are you looking for Oregon to face them in a heated competition, a teeth-baring test of endurance to prove athletic superiority? Looking to support your Duck athletes as they push themselves to their limits to gain critical bragging rights?

Step away from Autzen Stadium and avoid McArthur Court.

But stop by Hayward Field on your way to the nearest golf course. Reflect, for a moment, on the legend of Prefontaine and the story of Oregon track, which has produced 15 of Oregon’s 16 national championships.

Of those 15, three came at the hands of the Duck women, two in cross country and one in outdoor track. This year’s contingent of female Duck cross country runners represents Oregon’s best chance since 1987 at adding a women’s national championship to the Casanova Center trophy collection. (Even then, wait until track season in the spring.)

Now I must apologize to head coach Vin Lananna and the Duck runners. This type of presumption is exactly what they don’t need in the face of Washington’s formidable unit.

You see, the Huskies are the reigning Pacific-10 Conference, NCAA West Regional and NCAA Cross Country champions. Oregon finished second to the Huskies at every level of competition, most notably — perhaps ignominiously — at the 2008 Pac-10s. At Springfield Country Club, the Ducks’ unofficial home court, Washington runners finished 1-2-3-4-5-6 for 15 points (the lowest possible cross country score).

Of those six Husky runners, the top five finishers will all be back this year. Oregon’s top finisher from the Pac-10s (seventh overall) Lindsey Scherf has used up her eligibility, along with Oregon’s sixth-best finisher (16th overall) Zoe Nelson.

Lananna has stocked the team with another class of talented freshmen, most notably Jordan Hasay, the Ducks’ most decorated recruit this side of Galen Rupp. Hasay is a four-time California state cross-country champion and two-time Foot Locker Cross Country national champion and she will complement Nicole Blood and Alex Kosinski nicely.

This suddenly fierce extension of a long-standing rivalry serves as a necessary litmus test for Lananna, in his fifth year as the head of Oregon’s cross country and track and field teams. In his ongoing assignment to revitalize the Ducks, Lananna appears on the cusp of building up the women’s program to uncharted territory: nationally and sustainably competitive.

The Oregon men have cemented themselves as a national power, with three national championships in the past two academic years. Simply put, it’s the women’s turn. Cross-country season marks the first major benchmark.

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