Edward Cheserek could make history at Pac-12 Championship meet on Friday
After building on their race experience over the past few meets, the Ducks will embark on the championship portion of their schedule starting with the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships on Friday morning at the Randolph North Golf Course in Tucson, Arizona.
“This is probably the toughest conference in the country,” associate head coach Andy Powell said. “I feel like we’re prepared, and I think we’ll have a strong showing.”
The women’s 6-kilometer race will flag off at 9:30 a.m. and the men’s 8-kilometer race will start at 10:30 a.m.
All eyes will be on senior Edward Cheserek to see if he can become the first man to sweep the Pac-12 Championships in his cross country career. Doing so will cement him in a league of his own and bring him one step closer to bagging his fourth Pac-12 Athlete of the Year award.
Only two other men have come close to achieving this feat – Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine (1970, 1971, 1973) and Washington State’s Henry Rono (1976, 1978, 1979).
So far, the odds seem to be in Cheserek’s favor. Besides winning 15 out of his last 17 cross country races, he has never finished below fourth in a collegiate cross country race.
To make Pac-12 history, Cheserek has to fend off a strong field of rivals consisting of six past NCAA All-Americans: John Dressel and Ben Saarel from Colorado; Grant Fisher, Sean McGorty and Sam Wharton from Stanford and Colby Gilbert from Washington. Gilbert last dethroned the distance king in the 5,000-meter event at the Pepsi Invitational earlier this year.
The last time the Oregon men held the championship trophy was in 2008. The closest the No. 3 team in the nation has come to winning the title was in 2009 when they finished 17 points behind Stanford. Last year, they placed third.
“We haven’t lost a meet yet, so hopefully we’ll win that one too,” sophomore Matthew Maton said. “We’re all in really good shape right now.”
Of the Oregon men, Cheserek, Jake Leingang, Bryan Fernandez, Travis Neuman, Sam Prakel, Tanner Anderson and Maton have raced in the Pac-12 before. New faces to the Pac-12 scene include senior Dartmouth transfer Tim Gorman and freshmen Jackson Mestler, Austin Tamagno and Levi Thomet.
Three other top-10 ranked teams will race in the Pac-12 championships as well: No. 2 Stanford, No. 7 Colorado and No. 10 UCLA. Colorado has won the championship title five years in a row.
The women’s field is not too shabby either. The Oregon women, currently ranked fifth, will be competing against top-ranked teams such as No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington and No. 11 Stanford. The Oregon women last won the title in 2014.
Last year, Oregon women finished six points behind champion Colorado. Six of the women from that team are still around to form the nucleus of the team this year, namely Alli Cash, who finished sixth last year, Frida Berge, Maggie Schmaedick, Emma Abrahamson, Ashley Maton and Jessica Hull.
Joining the fray this year are Georgetown transfer Sam Nadel, freshmen Katie Rainsberger and Perrin Xthona.
Rainsberger has consistently been the first Oregon woman to cross the finish line this season, establishing herself as the top female distance runner at Oregon since her debut in the Washington Invitational. She said the Arizona course will be flatter and hopes to get some quality fast times out of it.
“Of course we want to run well tomorrow, but we want to run well more so in a month,” Rainsberger said.
The ladies’ field includes six past NCAA All-Americans. Besides Cash, the field features California’s Bethan Knights; Colorado’s Kaitlyn Benner and Erin Clark; and Stanford’s Elise Cranny and Vanessa Fraser.
Powell said racing in the Pac-12 Championships is a great opportunity for his runners to check out their competition come Nationals in November.
“You get a feel for who the different runners are out there and how they race,” Powell said. “We just keep wanting to get closer and closer to them.”
Follow Romaine Soh on Twitter @mainetainpls
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