EUGENE, Ore. — A simple yet significant sign appeared in the women’s locker room at Oregon’s Hayward Field this year.
“Triple Crown. Every practice counts,” it read.
Oregon’s women have won both the NCAA cross country and the indoor championships. No women’s team has ever added the outdoor title in the same school year for the so-called “Triple Crown.”
The Ducks hope to be the first at this year’s championship, which starts today in Eugene.
Oregon hasn’t won an outdoor title since 1985, but the Ducks have been close the past four years, finishing as runners up.
This year, there’s a feeling that Oregon is well-poised for the triple crown, given its achievements so far and the home-track advantage. The women won the cross country title for the first time since 1987, then won a fourth straight indoor championship
Coach Robert Johnson would like to just focus on the team doing its best, but the triple-crown buzz has gotten louder as the season has progressed. And there’s that sign in the locker room, too.
“I can’t not think about it,” he said as the outdoor season got under way. “Everywhere I go people are talking about it.”
The Oregon women are ranked No. 5 going into the championships and have 15 athletes taking part in the event. Top-ranked Kansas has 13 entrants, while No. 2 Texas A&M has 15.
“Coach Johnson always says ‘Just be Oregon every day,’ ” senior Jordan Hasay said. “We just need to do our best and train hard, and the combination of all those things will make us ready.”
Hasay, a Mission Prep graduate and the most decorated track athlete in Oregon’s history, will run the 5,000 meters in search of her first NCAA outdoor title. But she’ll be challenged by Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino, who became the first woman ever to win both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the indoor championships.
Oregon’s women are expected to do well in the 100- and 200-meter dashes because of junior sprinter English Gardner, who will be carrying a heavy load for the team by also running in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
One of the most intriguing women in the field is Liz Brenner, who will compete for the Ducks in the javelin. The sophomore has taken part in four Division I sports during her time at Oregon: volleyball, basketball, softball (last season) and now track and field.
On the men’s side, top-ranked Texas A&M and second-ranked Arkansas are sending 20 entrants apiece. The Razorbacks, who are the defending champions outdoors, also won the indoor title this year.
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam was direct about his team’s intentions this week.
“Contend for a title,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good group going to Eugene. It’s going to be a matter of executing and getting the job done. There’s one intention, and that’s to compete for a title.”
The Aggies have excelled this season in the sprints, and send indoor 200-meter champ Ameer Webb to Eugene. Arkansas pole vaulter Andrew Irvin is seeking his fist outdoor title after repeating as the indoor champ.
In the men’s 1,500, defending champ Andy Bayer of Indiana will likely be challenged by Oklahoma’s Patrick Casey.
Arizona’s Lawi Lalang is the favorite in the 10,000 meters and will also run the 5,000.
USC senior Bryshon Nellum won the 200 and 400 meters at the Pac-12 championships and hopes to add at least one NCAA title to his list of achievements.
Nellum redshirted his 2009 season for the Trojans after he was shot in the legs at a party by gang members who thought he was someone else. Told he might not ever reach an elite level on the track again, Nellum beat the odds and finished third at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene last year — earning a spot on the team for the London Games.
Nellum was part of the 4x400 relay team that won the silver medal and was selected by his U.S. teammates to carry the flag in the closing ceremonies. But an NCAA championship has eluded him.
Oregon’s Elijah Greer is the favorite in the men’s 800. The third-ranked Duck men, winners of the Pac-12 championships, haven’t won the outdoor title since 1984.