Cross CountrySports

Oregon cross country faces first true test at Pac-12 Championships

The Oregon men’s and women’s cross country teams will head to Litchfield Park, Ariz., this Saturday to compete in the 2011 Pac-12 Championships. Arizona State will host a meet featuring a half-dozen of the nation’s top squads on both the men’s and women’s teams.

The Oregon men come into the meet ranked No. 23 in the country and will go head-to-head with No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Colorado, No. 20 UCLA, No. 22 Washington State and No. 25 Arizona. The men are relatively inexperienced compared to recent years but will be led by senior Luke Puskedra, who finished fourth at last year’s conference meet in Seattle. Coming into the Pac-12s, Puskedra has a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes going all the way back to the beginning of [email protected]@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@

Although Puskedra offers a long resume of championship experience in cross country, it’s not as if the rest of Oregon’s roster is completely unproven. Sophomores Ben DeJarnette, Mitchell Hunt, Brian Shrader and Parker Stinson all competed last season in Seattle. Stinson has emerged as a top threat this fall and figures to be close behind Puskedra this weekend.

Although the Oregon men are barely ranked in the top 25 and sit behind a handful of Pac-12 opponents, they still are a realistic threat to the take the conference crown. The Ducks are notoriously late starters and have taken a conservative approach to their early-season races, including their showing at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. [email protected]@[email protected]@

“I think we started the year and we looked at the men’s team as a work in progress and that we’d certainly get better every week,” associate athletic director Vin Lananna said. “I think that we certainly are there and that if we race the way we’re training — I haven’t seen too many men’s teams train quite as effectively as this team has trained. I think the question is: Can they translate that over into the race? And that’s always the question you’re going to have with a young team.”@@[email protected]@

“I know going into Wisconsin a lot of us were sick, kind of had the bug you get in Eugene when the weather changes,” Puskedra said. “We’ve all done a lot of work in the two weeks leading up so this time, for this meet, I think we’re going to be in an appropriate spot.”

The Oregon women, ranked No. 11 in the country, don’t have an easy path to the championship either. Their side is lead by 10-time All-American Jordan Hasay, who cruised to a win in the Pac-12 Championships last year. This year’s conference meet presents an elevated level of competition, however. No. 2 Washington, No. 5 Arizona, No. 8 Stanford, No. 10 California and No. 16 Colorado will be looking to grab the conference title as [email protected]@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@

“I’m just excited at the prospect of how our team is going to do,” Hasay said. “I think we have a pretty good shot to maybe win. I think there’s a lot of teams that could win, it’s pretty wide open, so I think it’s gonna be really close.”

Unlike the Oregon men, the women will enter the Pac-12 with an abundance of championship experience. Only three runners — freshmen Megan Patrignelli and Molly Grabill, along with junior Sarah Penney — will be making their debuts in conference competition. Seniors Bronwyn Crossman and Claire Michel will be making their fourth appearance in a conference championship, while juniors Anne Kesselring and Taylor Wallace will be making their third appearances. Becca Friday and Lanie Thompson will be representing Oregon against the rest of the conference for the second time in their careers.

Saturday will offer both the men and women their first chance to prove themselves in a meaningful meet this fall. With a field chock-full of top-notch competition, grabbing top honors in the Pac-12 won’t be an easy task.

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