NCAA Track and Field: 5 Good Reasons Why the Oregon Men Are Title Contenders

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2013

NCAA Track and Field: 5 Good Reasons Why the Oregon Men Are Title Contenders

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    In recent years, much has been written about the powerful women's track program at the University of Oregon.

    And rightly so. Consider these accomplishments:

    —Reigning NCAA champions in cross country.

    —Four straight NCAA Indoor Championship wins

    —Three consecutive runner-up finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

    —A legitimate shot at the final jewel in college track's triple crown: NCAA titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor championships in a single academic year. It would be an unprecedented sweep.

    Of course, it doesn't hurt that the men's and women's 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships will be contested on Oregon's home track, Hayward Field in Eugene, OR on June 5-8.

    But a college doesn't exist within the boundaries of a municipality known as "Track Town, USA" based on the success of only half its available track and field resources.

    While it is true the men's program took a huge hit recently with the departure of perennial scorers such as Ashton Eaton, Andrew Wheating and Matthew Centrowitz, the legacy of overall excellence at Oregon is about to get a boost back into national contention from some surprising male athletes.

    Let's take a look at a few of the Ducks' potential high scorers.

Mac Fleet, Junior, 1,500 Meters

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    Considering the distance-rich tradition at Oregon, claiming the school record in the indoor mile (3 minutes, 57.7 seconds) is quite the feather in Mac Fleet's cap.

    But it's a safe bet Fleet would rather have the feathers on his feet.

    If not for an almost two year layoff due to serious foot disorders (2011-12), Fleet might well be penciled in as the favorite for national honors in 2013.

    After a stellar high school career and early college success, Fleet demonstrated the inherent talents of an elite miler. Then, foot problems rendered him nearly lame.

    A slow, methodical recovery brought him to a mediocre cross country season last fall and then a surprising 3:58.9 indoor mile in early March. Could this be the beginning of one of the better comeback stories of 2013?

    If Fleet can stay healthy, it's not unreasonable to dream of a podium finish in the men's 1,500 meter final.

    No...not at all, with the storied Hayward magic and a frenzied home crowd in his corner.

Sam Crouser, Sophomore, Javelin

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    The Crouser clan.

    As Northwest track fans know, the longtime Oregon residents are the gift that keeps on giving.

    For over 30 years, international, national, collegiate and high school championships have been rattled by the impact of the Crousers' thunder.

    Brian, Dean and Mitch are the proven stars from a generation ago. Sam, Ryan and Haley are the prospects of the present and future.

    Sam, as an Oregon redshirt freshman, finished second at the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials in the javelin with a personal-best throw of 265 feet, 1 inch, but was denied a spot on Team USA because his throw fell just short of the Olympic qualifying standard (269').

    One can only imagine the disappointment and resulting determination of such a near miss.

    The only thing more dangerous than a Crouser with an implement in his (or her) hand is a hungry Crouser with an implement.

    Combine that with Crouser's demonstrated knack for hitting the big throw when it counts and you've got major points in the NCAA final.

Johnathan Cabral, Sophomore, 110-Meter Hurdles

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    Whoever recruited Johnathan Cabral to Oregon deserves a raise—or at least an award for Salesman of the Year.

    Not that the Oregon track program is a hard sell. It's just that hurdlers, like sprinters, are known to prefer palm trees and sun.

    But Cabral seems to like Oregon. And Oregon certainly likes Cabral.

    His short college career has been one personal milestone after another. Last year, he smoothly adjusted to the college hurdles and whittled his best legal time down to 13.45 seconds, which would be good enough for third-fastest in the world on the current list.

    As it is, Cabral does rank 10th in the world with his 13.65 in the prelims of last weekend's Texas Relays. He won the final in a wind-aided 13.33 against some of the nation's best collegiate hurdlers.

    And things are just warming up in the 2013 outdoor season. If Cabral's learning curve maintains its steep ascent, he could make a huge contribution for the Ducks come nationals.

    And that guy who recruited him? Give him a cushy seat right on the finish line.

Elijah Greer, Senior, 800 Meters

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    As a senior, Elijah Greer's primary contribution to a possible championship year is obvious: He's been around the track a few times.

    It's just the kind of seasoned savvy—gained in multiple top-level competitions like NCAA championships, an Olympic Trials final or a stint on the European circuit—that will help him in a tactical do-or-die race like the 800.

    Another advantage Greer (who has an impressive PR of 1:45.06) possesses when it comes to championship racing is an able co-conspirator. His young Ethiopian teammate Boru Guyota (1:47.75) can act as a pacer or run interference—or simply provide moral support.

    Guyota knows this is Greer's year to shine. And apparently, so do some longtime track observers.

    Track and Field News has given Greer the early nod to win it all in June.

Mike Berry, Junior, 400 Meters

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    The day Mike Berry first put on an Oregon singlet, he had "the future of the quarter mile" written all over him. Almost immediately, he took down Otis Davis' longtime school record.

    And while he hasn't yet fully realized his potential, he is right on course. With a personal best time of 44.75 seconds, he is definitely in the mix with the big boys.

    Yet, as impressive as Berry's individual exploits have been, his prowess as an anchor on the 4x400-meter relay may be even more jaw-dropping. No matter where he finds himself positioned, when Berry receives the baton, his Oregon team must never be considered out of contention.

    During the semifinals of the 4x400-meter relay at the 2011 World Outdoor Championships, Berry's 43.83 split time really turned heads and cemented him as an elite quarter-miler. It was the fastest split time of the championships.

    With his dual-threat scoring capability, a double-digit scoring contribution from Berry at nationals is almost a given.

    Dare we dream of a championship-deciding 4x400 finale in June?

    There you have it. Five heavy hitters for Oregon. Go to the next slide to see the Ducks' "wild cards", if you will—those who could step up and provide unexpected extra scoring.

Oregon's X-Factors

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    4x100-Meter Relay

    With just a little work, the makeshift relay team of footballers De'Anthony Thomas, Dior Mathis and B.J. Kelly with Arthur Delaney could be nationally competitive. While still shaking off the cobwebs of winter, the team ran a 40.35 at the Oregon Preview in early March. Cabral or Berry could also conceivably jump in if needed.


    Trevor Dunbar, Junior, 5,000 Meters

    The Junior transfer from the University of Portland should probably get his own slide as a heavy hitter. Dunbar is almost a guaranteed points producer at championship level in the 5K. He is rugged and endurance-oriented with a runner's pedigree.


    Greg Skipper, Freshman, Hammer

    Like the Crousers, the Skipper clan is almost as legendary in Oregon sports history. Greg is the latest in the line of Skippers to show promise at the national level. At the recent Texas Relays, he launched the hammer 216', 5", serving notice that he is on the rise. That throw is currently fifth best in the nation.


    Dakotah Keys, Sophomore, Decathlon

    It's gotta be something in the water.Yet another Oregon small-town, home-grown decathlete (think Tim Bright, Dan O'Brien, Tom Pappas, Ashton Eaton). Keys is firmly in the hunt for national honors. He's the defending Pac-12 champion and improves every time out. Sure points in June.


    Matt Miner, Senior, 1,500 Meters

    Out of Ashland, OR by way of Dartmouth, Miner recently uncorked a 3:42.60 1,500-meters at the Stanford Invitational. This feasibly puts him in contention with Mac Fleet for precious points in the national championships. 


    Parker Stinson, Junior, 10,000 Meters

    Stinson as well, took advantage of a strong field at the Stanford Invitational to produce the  second-fastest time in the world so far at 10K, 28:24.71. Distance dominance  appears to once again be returning to the Oregon men's program.

    Home-Field Advantage

    As mentioned earlier, this year's national outdoor championships will be hosted by Oregon. The consensus favorites on the men's side, Florida and Texas A&M both possess formidable teams. At Hayward Field, any great effort, by any competitor, will be heartily acknowledged. But if Oregon has an athlete in contention, expect something a little extra you won't find at any other venue. It's worth at least five points.

    If you are in the Eugene, Oregon area this Saturday, April 6, be sure to attend the Pepsi Team Invitational. It is a quality, scored track meet featuring Oregon, Texas A&M, Washington and Washington State. Get an up close and personal look for yourself.