Cross CountrySports

Oregon women nab NCAA championship title by a point, Cheserek’s winning streak is broken

It was a shocking morning for the Ducks in Terre Haute, Indiana, at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course on Saturday.

Throughout the season, the women had not indicated that they were favorites to win the NCAA Cross Country Nationals. They finished fourth in both the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA West Regionals and were only granted entry to the Nationals after they were awarded an at-large bid.

They entered the competition ranked 12th. They finished 1st in the nation.

On the men’s side, senior Edward Cheserek was unable to claim his fourth national title as he faded in the last kilometer to finish third in 29 minutes 48 seconds over the 10,000-meter course.

“It’s kind of disappointing, because this is my last year; it was a good race and everybody was tough out there,” Cheserek said in a press release. “My hamstring was a little bit tight, but I was like, I’m going to try my best for my teammates.”

The day before, six favorites from each category were selected to participate in a press conference, including Cheserek. A reporter had asked how the three-time champion could be taken down, and the rest of the five remained silent for a long time before Syracuse’s Justyn Knight, who eventually finished second, spoke up.

“When you talk about how to beat Edward Cheserek, there’s no real plan,” Knight said. “He’s a talented guy. His records speak for themselves. He can win with sit-and-kick, or he can win by stringing out the race. I think the best thing is to prepare for both, and then just go out and have fun.”

Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan won his first title in 29:22.

Not only did the Australian native’s win derail Cheserek’s attempt to make NCAA history, it also snapped the seven-year streak of Kenyan-born athletes dominating the championship. Liberty’s Sam Chelanga first started the trend in 2009, then continued it in 2010 before handing off the baton to Arizona’s Lawi Lalang in 2011, Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka in 2012, and finally Oregon’s Cheserek from 2013-2015.

Leading the women to the win was freshman Katie Rainsberger, the first of the Ducks to complete the 6,000-meter race in 19:51. Her fourth place result awarded her the highest finish by an Oregon freshman and also established herself as the fastest freshman in the nation.

The other four members who contributed to the team score of 125 were Alli Cash (14th), Samantha Nadel (21st), Ashley Maton (61st) and Maggie Schmaedick (65th).

Rounding out the traveling team were Jessica Hull (79th) and Emma Abrahamson (112th).

The actual team score is lower than all their positions combined because there were some independent runners who finished in between the Ducks that did not rack up team points, so a lower position is assigned to those who finish behind the independents.

While the fifth counting member is not usually given the most attention, they were given the eye today. Oregon’s and Michigan’s last runners had finished within a tenth of a second of each other, and a video replay was required as the two teams anxiously awaited a re-tally of the team score.

Ultimately, the Oregon women emerged victorious by just one point, and they jumped out of the tent screaming as they celebrated the end of a three-year drought. The last time the women won the championship was in 2012.

Assistant coach Maurica Powell said the Ducks’ pacing and placing through the first two kilometers led her to think they had a shot to win.

“It was like, they’re either going to go big or go home,” Powell said. “And they held on.”

The No. 12 women became the lowest-ranked team to win an NCAA title. The previous record was set when No. 4 Georgetown won in 2011.

It did not prove to be as nail-biting a finish for the men’s team, who finished ninth with 282 points. Matthew Maton was the second counting member in 29th, a massive improvement from last year’s 85th finish.

The rest of the counting members were Tanner Anderson (69th), Sam Prakel (104th) and Travis Neuman (151st). The rest of the team included Jake Leingang (189th) and Levi Thomet (241st).

The Northern Arizona men won their first-ever championship title with 125 points after playing second fiddle for three years.

The Ducks will have a brief respite from their competition schedule before embarking on their indoor track season. Their first race is scheduled for the University of Washington Indoor Preview in Seattle, Washington on Jan 14, 2017.

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Romaine Soh

Romaine Soh

Romaine is a senior at the University of Oregon majoring in journalism. A budding track and field nerd, she is actively learning the technicalities of ball sports to compensate for her lack of hand-eye coordination.