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Lieberman: Past anguish has Oregon women ready for NCAA title run



For the women in the Oregon track and field program, fate has appeared to get a bit crueler in each of the past three seasons.

First there was the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. That year, the results were bittersweet: Both the No. 2 women and No. 2 men bowed out to Texas A&M, which pulled off a rare sweep in claiming both team titles.

However, there were positives: Though the Duck women fell to the Aggies, they had their best finish since winning an NCAA crown in 1985. Even better, the Oregon women were a young bunch and had fallen by a relatively small margin, scoring 43 points to A&M’s 50. Additionally, the group produced a pair of individual champions: Rachel Yurkovich in the javelin and Brianne Theisen in the pentathlon.

“The women were absolutely fantastic,” said associate athletic director Vin Lananna to goducks.com at the time. “I never thought in a million years that we would actually be in a position to contend for the title with such great teams out there, so it was really great for the women.”

If 2009 was a pleasant surprise, 2010 was a wake-up call.

At that year’s NCAAs held in Eugene, the Oregon women used performances from Alex Kosinski, Keshia Baker@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4365&SPID=243&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=655078&[email protected]@ and Anne Kesselring@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4365&SPID=243&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=3759266&[email protected]@ to grab 14 points and the overnight lead heading into the last day of competition. A win, which would offer salvation for the heartbreak of 2009, was within reaching distance.

Then-freshman Jordan Hasay@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4365&SPID=243&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=3759217&[email protected]@ would highlight the final day with a surprise third-place finish in the 1,500 meters, but Texas A&M used an impressive 1-2-5 finish in the 200 meters to claim the women’s title for the second consecutive year. The Aggies totaled 72 points, with Oregon next at 57.

This time around, Lananna’s reaction told the whole story.

“I’m glad we got second, I’m proud of them because second is not bad,” he said on goducks.com.

Not bad. Not satisfying, either.

The 2011 NCAAs, held in Des Moines, Iowa, brought its own set of challenges. Hasay and Kesselring had surely matured into reliable stalwarts. But if there is one quality that belies team championships in collegiate track and field, it’s depth. Were the Ducks well-rounded enough to knock the Aggies off their perch?

The Oregon women last year saw individual NCAA titles by Melissa Gergel@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4365&SPID=243&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1279833&[email protected]@ in the pole vault and Kesselring in 800 meters. A third-place finish from senior Jamesha Youngblood@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4365&SPID=243&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1279852&[email protected]@ in the long jump, a fourth-place showing in the 5,000 meters from Hasay and a seventh-place finish in the 100 meters from freshman English Gardner@@[email protected]@ pushed the Ducks to the limit.@@what limit? not settling for second [email protected]@

Yet again, great just wasn’t good enough for the No. 1 spot.@@lol…[email protected]@

The women of Oregon came up just short again, finishing four points below the Aggies. Texas A&M totaled 49 points, with Oregon at 45.

“It was a good track meet,” Lananna said on goducks.com. “It was an exciting event and close meet, and our women can use it as motivation for next year.”

In just three years, a second-place finish had morphed from “absolutely fantastic” to “motivation.” See the pattern?@@um…[email protected]@

This year, Oregon’s women aren’t striving for a national title – they’re starving for it.@@trying to get their wedding [email protected]@

“We came in second last year — a close second,” Gardner said days before the 2012 NCAAs. “I told my coach I never wanted to be a bridesmaid at a wedding again. I want to be the bride. So, let’s take home the big white cake and enjoy ourselves when we get back to Eugene.”

Theisen summed up her frustration more succinctly.

“It’s getting old,” she said. “I want to win.”@@…how does second place [email protected]@

She admitted that, this year, she’s taking the numbers game a little more seriously, projecting results with form charts. Lananna said he has no problem with the practice.

“I’m OK with whatever they need to do to perform their best at the NCAAs,” he said. “As a fifth-year senior, if she wants to print a chart and chart it out and do the form charts, that’s fine with me.”@@what? and if she was a freshman, sophomore…[email protected]@

That being said, don’t pin the Ducks as choke artists or head cases.@@history says [email protected]@ While the program can’t help but stress past results, it retains an orientation towards the future.

“We won’t feel like there’s any hump to get over,”@@[email protected]@ Theisen said. “I think we’ll get over it as soon as we get rolling.”

The Oregon women have been gathering momentum towards their ultimate goal for over three years. 2012 seems like an appropriate time to cruise over the peak.


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