Cross CountrySports

Clash of the titans: No. 1 versus No. 2 for the title

The Pacific-10 Conference men’s cross country championship race has an exceptional field, with five of the nine teams (Oregon State does not field a men’s cross country team) ranked in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll. And yet, No. 13 Washington, No. 16 Arizona State and No. 26 Washington State don’t factor greatly into the equation.

The other two teams — No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon — have combined to win every Pac-10 team title since 2000, with the Ducks going for their fourth straight title today. Both teams won races at the Pre-Nationals Invitational on Oct. 17 (Oregon the men’s blue race, Stanford the men’s white race). And both teams are the clear favorites to take home another Pac-10 crown in the 3 p.m. 8,000m race at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach, Calif.

“We match up really well with Stanford, but I’d guess that, the way the polls have it, they figure that Stanford should win handily,” said Oregon head coach Vin Lananna, who is notoriously reticent to discuss poll rankings.

Beyond the historical perspective, the Ducks and Cardinal match up well individually. All-Americans Luke Puskedra of Oregon and Chris Derrick of Stanford, roommates and teammates at the 2009 IAAF Junior World Cross Country Championship and individual title winners in Terre Haute, Ind., are expected to be the first men across for their respective teams. Not far behind them should be All-Americans Matthew Centrowitz of Oregon and Elliott Heath of Stanford, both of whom achieved top-25 finishes at Pre-Nationals.

“We’ve got a great top seven, they’ve got a great top seven,” Centrowitz said.

One key difference, however, separates Oregon and Stanford — their runners’ specialties.

“I think we have a lot of middle-distance runners,” Lananna said. “I think it will come down to whether our middle distance runners will be able to run the course as well as Stanford’s distance runners. We’ll see how it all plays out. In the end, I think it’ll be a heck of competition.”

Conventional wisdom dictates that 5,000m and 10,000m specialists (Puskedra, Diego Mercado, Daniel Mercado) fare better in competitive cross country races than 1,500m or 800m runners (Centrowitz, A.J. Acosta, Jordan McNamara and Kenny Klotz). Ultimately, team performance decides the team title, and the Ducks have been clicking after an early disappointment in the Bill Dellinger Invitational on October 2, where Oregon finished third behind Alabama and BYU.

“So far, we’ve had a really steady incline of improvement,” Daniel Mercado said. “We had a really, really great race at Pre-Nats. The biggest goal is to improve, just keeping the momentum going all the way to nationals.”

Of course, the Ducks’ last three conference championships came with the help of the departed Galen Rupp and Shadrack Biwott. Oregon has had to move past its significant contributions, and has succeeded thus far.

“The reality is that we don’t have Galen, we don’t have Shadrack,” Daniel Mercado said. “Our teammates are getting so much closer together all the time. We’ve developed the idea that if we have a tight pack, we will more than likely win the race.”

In a race that could very well come down to the fifth and final scoring runner, someone will have to step up for the Ducks. As far as Centrowitz is concerned, pick someone. He’ll
be ready.

“We have a lot of guys that are a year older and a year stronger,” he said. “Danny is running even better this year than he was last year, and with the additions of A.J. (Acosta, who missed most of last season due to injuries) and Mac (Fleet), we’ll be up to the task.”

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