EUGENE – Jenna Prandini says the “Hayward magic” is real.
Prandini would know. In Saturday’s NCAA 100 meter final, the Oregon junior overcame a rocky start to pull off an impressive victory over a loaded field, and gave the Ducks the upper hand in the women’s team race. Prandini trailed for at least 90 meters of the race, but her closing surge carried her past Texas’ Morolake Akinosun to win by the barest of margins, 10.96 to 10.97.
“It felt great,” Prandini said. “There is definitely some Hayward magic out there right now.”
It was a critical moment in the meet. In the day’s first running event, Oregon’s 4x100 relay team had difficulty with the second exchange, as former McMinnville High star Ashante Horsley appeared to take off early on her third leg. The team finished the race in sixth, but the Oregon team was disqualified for making the baton exchange outside of the zone. Rather than getting three points in the event, the Ducks ended up with zero.
Oregon’s coaches preach to their athletes not to get too high or too low during a meet, and to stay focused. Though she was the anchor on the relay with the botched handoff, Prandini kept her focus squarely on the prize. Her win in the 100 changed the momentum for Oregon, and the Duck women never looked back on their way to their second national championship in outdoor track and field – and first in 30 years.
“There’s ups and downs and that was definitely a down point in the meet,” Prandini said about the relay.
“I had to forget about it and focus on the 100 and do my thing . . . stuff happens in the 4 x 1. Things happen in track, especially in the 4 x 1. You never know what is going to happen. We didn’t get the stick around, (but I) forgot about it and went out to run the 100.”
The 22-year-old from Clovis, California, said winning the NCAA 100 meters was something that has been on her mind for a long time.
“To come out and win the 100 has always been one of my dreams . . . the second half of my race has always been the better part of my race. (My coach Curtis Taylor) said just stick to the race model. Don’t freak out, don’t start doing something that you don’t usually do. I trusted Curtis and knew if I just stuck to what I do every single day in practice I could get them at the end.”
Prandini’s day was not done yet, however. She had to return to the track for the final of the 200 meters just 45 minutes after the conclusion of the 100. Though she watched freshman teammate Raevyn Rogers pick up ten big points for the team with a stunning win in the 800, Prandini knew that it was up to her to get more points in the 200 to ensure the team trophy would belong to Oregon.
In the 200 Prandini faced Akinosun and Kentucky’s Dezera Bryant, who finished third in the 100, as well as fresher runners Kyra Jefferson of Florida and Kamaria Brown of Texas A&M. A tough task, especially for someone running her sixth race in three days.
Prandini got a better start in the 200 and took over on the homestretch, with the Hayward crowd in full roar. This time, though, Bryant had the slightly better finish and just nipped Prandini at the line. Bryant ran 22.18, .03 seconds in front of Prandini’s 22.21 – the third and fourth fastest times in the world this year. A helpful, but legal, wind of 1.9 meters per second contributed to the fast race, with four runners in all dipping under 22.25 seconds.
Prandini had perhaps the toughest work load of any athlete here, with prelims and finals in the 100, 200, 4 x 100 and long jump. The compressed schedule of having women in action on just two days instead of four made things particularly challenging.
Prandini said and acted like that didn’t matter. Just as the relay problem didn’t matter.
“You can’t get too emotionally involved,” Prandini said. “If you go up and down, your performance is going to suffer. I just try to keep as calm as I can and when I get on the line just do what I know I can do.”
At last year’s NCAA meet, Prandini scored 24 points. This year she picked up 26, despite the relay DQ, and was again the meet’s top scorer.
Oregon Head Coach Robert Johnson said the support of her large family was a big part of Prandini’s success.
“I don’t know if you guys saw it or not but there was about 30 or 40 of her family with “Go Jenna” shirts on,” Johnson said. “She has a huge family, and that’s probably the Italian in her.”
Prandini agreed, saying she has always performed better when her family is there.
“The crowd is going nuts and my family is all here and couldn’t have asked for a better day,” she said. “My mom’s family is here, all her brothers and sisters and all my cousins. There’s a lot of them, I don’t even know how many.”
After watching the Oregon men win their second consecutive national title on Friday, Prandini said it was time for the women to step up.
“We were getting a little jealous (of the men). They were getting all the attention so we wanted to go out there and win a championship for ourselves . . . to be able to put it all together when it counts is just awesome.”