Tanner Anderson and Matthew Maton each aim for breakout sophomore seasons
From the late Steve Prefontaine to current Duck Edward Cheserek, Oregon has a long history of producing elite distance runners.
So it came as no surprise for anyone two years ago when the Ducks signed two of the top prep runners in the nation, Tanner Anderson and Matthew Maton.
Before coming to Oregon, Anderson and Maton had a friendly rivalry, fueled by the desire to one-up each other. They both spent their prep careers in the northwest and matched up against each other throughout high school; Anderson ran for North Central High School in Spokane, Washington, and Maton for Summit High School in Bend, Oregon. They both were two-time state cross country champions, and their arrivals in Eugene came with high expectations.
Maton had already caused a buzz at Oregon before graduating high school. As an Oregon commit, he placed third in a race of collegiate runners at the Oregon Twilight in May of his senior year. He became the sixth prep runner to break the four-minute mile mark, and his time of 3 minutes, 59.38 seconds was the third-fastest time ever by a high schooler at the time.
Despite the lofty expectations, neither Maton nor Anderson had the stellar freshman year they had been hoping for.
“We don’t put too much emphasis or pressure on our freshman,” Oregon associate head coach Andy Powell said. “We tell them it’s the one time where they can take a backseat.”
Maton started his debut cross country season well, placing eighth overall at the Washington Invitational. But later in the fall, he didn’t perform as well in the championship races. He placed 17th at the Pac-12 Championship and fared worse during the NCAA Championships, finishing 85th as Oregon’s fifth runner.
Such finishes may be expected of normal collegiate freshman, but not Maton, who won the Oregon state title while obliterating Olympic silver medalist and former Duck Galen Rupp’s 11 year-old Oregon High School State Cross Country record by 10 seconds.
Anderson, on the other hand, fared slightly worse during his freshman season. His best finish was his debut at the Washington Invitational, in which he finished 12th overall. After that, he consistently finished as Oregon’s fourth runner, placing 42nd at the Pac-12 Championships and 56th at the NCAA Championships.
“I feel like I did pretty well with just being a freshman and being a newcomer,” Anderson said. “It’s a whole new learning curve when you just get here, and I feel like now that I have that year underneath me, I race a little bit smarter.”
Despite the fact he was healthy during last year’s track and field season, Anderson was redshirted. Powell said it because Oregon had so much depth.
“He still ran 14 minutes in the 5k,” Powell said. “I think he progressed quite well on the track.”
Maton was not redshirted, and the decision paid off as he transitioned into a track season that ended in strong fashion.
For the first half of the outdoor track and field season, Maton competed unattached, meaning he raced independent of his team. But he was unable to get a time that would be considered fast in Oregon’s deep 1,500-meter field. The Ducks have produced athletes such as Olympians Andrew Wheating and Matthew Centrowitz in the event, and returned standouts Blake Haney and Sam Prakel last season.
At the Oregon Twilight, Maton raced in an Oregon singlet for the first time and won the 1,500-meter with a time of 3:42.68.
“The season started really rocky,” Maton told reporters after the race. “I was full of confidence from last year, and I lost a little of that for some reason.”
The win propelled him to a second-place finish in the 1,500 at the Pac-12 Championships with a season best time of 3:39.97. Because of that, even though he didn’t meet the qualifying time, Maton was accepted as an entry in the 1,500 for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials.
Maton advanced past the first round easily with the ninth-best time of 3:42.51, but failed to make it to the finals despite the fact he had the 11th-best time in a semifinal in which 12 advanced.
Now, as sophomores, Maton and Anderson have the opportunity to make more of an impact on the team.
“I think they’ll keep moving up,” Powell said. “I think they’ll be a little better this year and then a little better next year.”
Anderson began his season at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, in which he crossed the finish line alongside Prakel for second place with a time of 24:36.8.
“This year I feel a lot more confident than I did last year,” Anderson said.
Maton didn’t race until two weeks ago at the Washington Invitational. Although Cheserek won the race and Prakel placed third, Maton and Anderson finished in fourth and sixth, respectively, propelling the Oregon men’s team to a resounding victory.
“Personally, I’m definitely racing a lot better,” Maton said. “I run a whole lot more miles so I’m stronger.”
Follow Hannah Bonnie on Twitter @hbonnie03