Cross CountrySports

Men's cross country looks to stabilize lineup in preparation for Pac-10 Championships

The Oregon men’s cross country team suffers from a condition. Longtime observers of distance runners, such as Ducks head coach Vin Lananna, call it “fifth-man blues.”

As the Ducks prepare for the Pacific-10 Conference Championships in Seattle on Saturday, Lananna comes closer to finding the right prescription.

“I think I feel really good about our top three or four guys,” he said following the Bill Dellinger Invitational on October 16. “It seems like every week someone is getting closer to (earning the fifth spot), but we’ll know at the Pac-10s.

“We need to have a strong fifth man. I feel good about the people we have, we just need to shore it up.”

The top four of junior Luke Puskedra — who hasn’t finished below second in a race this season — senior Matthew Centrowitz, senior Daniel Mercado and senior A.J. Acosta are known quantities for the Oregon Ducks, though Acosta has struggled at times.

Puskedra, who finished fifth at NCAAs as a freshman, has shaken off consistency and iron-deficiency problems to seemingly recreate his effortless performances from that year. Centrowitz won the Dellinger individual title — holding hands with Puskedra as he crossed the finish line — and has not finished lower than 27th at Pac-10s in his career. Mercado, a two-time cross country All-American, finished third at the Dellinger in what Lananna termed “a fantastic job.”

Acosta is the wild card. The seven-time All-American has never received honors during the cross country season, and his Dellinger performance (12th place, the No. 6 runner for the Ducks) was indicative of his inconsistencies. Strong performances in the two bellwether events — Pac-10s and NCAAs — could easily put the team in contention for great things.

Behind those four? Oregon is still looking for answers.

“We are always thinking in terms of our top seven runners and right now we have several people who have shown that they’re capable of jumping into that all-important fifth spot at the big meets,” Centrowitz said.

The three most likely candidates at this juncture come in the form of two talented freshman, and a redshirt junior enjoying a breakout year.

Parker Stinson arrived on campus this fall as a two-time USA Junior Track & Field champion at 10,000 meters. This cross country season, the Austin, Texas, native has finished 36th at the Notre Dame Invitational and 11th at the Dellinger, positive indications of things to come.

Ben DeJarnette kicked off the season with an individual win at the John Frank Memorial in Corvallis. The Mechanicsville, Va., native was the fifth Duck across the line at Notre Dame and the seventh (13th place) at the Dellinger.

Chris Kwiatkowski will likely be competing at Pac-10s for the first time in his four-year career. The Bellingham, Wash. native finished 29th at Notre Dame and ninth at the Dellinger.

“I’ve been here for four years and I’m just happy to be contributing towards the top for the team,” Kwiatkowski said. “We’re all motivated to keep this roll going the rest of the season.”

No. 1 Stanford and No. 22 Cal will be looking to slow that roll in Seattle this week. The most optimistic projection for the Ducks is a Pac-10 title, with the hope that winning is a cure for those fifth-man blues.

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