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Fleet win in 1500 meters highlights day 4 as both UO teams capture trophies
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
June 8, 2013

Mac Fleet - University of Oregon
EUGENE - Mac Fleet's dramatic win in the 1500 meters propelled the Oregon men to a strong final day performance and fourth-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships before a crowd of 11,482 at Historic Hayward Field on Saturday afternoon.

Fleet used a 52-second last lap and a strong kick in the homestretch to move from eighth to first, and he had enough of a margin at the line to give the crowd a little gesture of excitement.

Coming off more than two seasons of injuries made the victory especially sweet for the Oregon junior.

"It means everything," Fleet said. "Coming close my freshman year indoors, I had a little taste of it, then I had everything taken away the next two years. It puts it into perspective how hard it is to get at this level again. Just a fantastic day."

Sam Crouser's third place in the javelin, Johnathan Cabral's fifth in the 110 hurdles, and the 4 x 400 meter relay's team's third also contributed vital points for the Ducks in the close men's team race. Oregon ended with 44 points, just behind pre-meet favorite Arkansas' 46.5.

Fueled by wins in the javelin, 200 and 110 hurdles, the Texas A&M men appeared to be headed to an easy victory in the team race. They took a nine point lead and a strong 4 x 400 team into the meet's final event. But the Aggies dropped the baton on the first exchange in the 4 x 400 relay and finished last. This opened the door for Florida, which won the race going away in 3:01.34, earning ten points and a co-championship tie with A&M at 53 points apiece.

Meanwhile, the UO women's title hopes fell apart in heart-breaking fashion. Entering the final day 15 points behind Kansas, Oregon needed everything to go perfectly on Saturday to have a chance of catching front-running Kansas.

It didn't happen.

The women's 4 x 100 team performed as expected, taking fourth in 43.80, just ahead of Kansas. But the very next event - the 1500 meters - ended the Ducks' dreams of an NCAA title and a triple crown of championships in 2012-13.

Becca Friday - University of Oregon
Seniors Becca Friday and Anne Kesselring, both experienced and successful runners in NCAA competition, finished 11th and 12th, respectively, and out of scoring position. Friday ran most of the race at the back of the pack, but Kesselring was in the thick of it entering the homestretch. As runners started to pass her, Kesselring appeared to tie up badly about 30 meters from the finish line and then she fell to track. She struggled to get up and finish before a stunned crowd.

Kesselring, who won a NCAA title in the 800 as a sophomore, seemed stunned, too, after the race.

"I felt pretty good coming around the (final) turn, and then I really don't know what happened" Kesselring said. "I was looking at the finish line . . . my legs just wouldn't come up and could feel myself going down."

With their title hopes gone, facing a loaded field and 100 meter champion English Gardner sitting the race out with a bum ankle, the UO's normally strong 4 x 400 relay had a tough task in their race. They managed a fourth-place finish in 3:28.24.

That pushed the Ducks point total to 43, one point behind runner-up Texas A&M. Kansas breezed to their first women's national championship with 60 points, which was three points higher than projected coming into the meet.

"We definitely gave it everything we had on the day," Head Coach Robert Johnson said. "I couldn't be more proud of the girls."

Gardner stopped in the media tent after the 4 x 100 relay to announce that she has decided to turn professional and would be giving up her last year of eligibility at Oregon. Though the outdoor championship once again eluded the Oregon women, Gardner said she was proud of her effort and of the team.

"I went out there and fought tooth and nail for my team," Gardner said."Anything I could do for them I was willing to do . . . I'm going to miss being a Duck. I love being here at Oregon. I love wearing the uniform and I'm going to miss wearing the O. I'm just glad they gave me the opportunity to experience and witness the magic here at Hayward."

Mac Fleet was also savoring the moment after adding his win to the UO's long history of NCAA titles in the 1500 and mile. After finally overcoming a series of foot injuries, Fleet said he sat down with UO distance coach Andy Powell in early September last year to map out a plan to win the NCAA championship.

"We had a long talk about what we needed to do over the course of all those weeks. It was long months of dedication and really focused training . . . When I put some months (of training) together I can be dangerous."

Fleet also said he and Powell shared a similar career trajectory, since Powell was also injured during his college career at Stanford. Fleet believes that experience gave Powell the insight to guide him through the long months of not being able to compete or train.

"Without Andy, I don't think I am here today. He works so hard and cares so much about all his athletes. I owe a lot to him."

"We have been through a lot together," Powell acknowledged. "When things aren't going well that's when you need to spend a lot of time (with an athlete). We were able to really connect not just at practice but spending time talking about things, about life."

Notes . . . LSU senior Kimberlynn Duncan became the first three-time champion in the 200 meters. Duncan tied the fastest-ever NCAA 200 meter time of 22.04 but her time was wind-aided and won't count as a record . . . Olympian Emma Coburn of Colorado polished off a distinguished college career with another victory in the 3000 meter steeplechase. Coburn will join a number of other collegian standouts from this meet in Des Moines later this month to try to make the US world championship team . . . UO Head Coach Robert Johnson said a contingent of Ducks would also be among those headed to Des Moines in a couple of weeks. Expect English Gardner, Laura Roesler, Jordan Hasay, Phyllis Francis, Mac Fleet, Mike Berry, Elijah Greer and possibly a few others to be in that group . . . Brianna Rollins of Clemson will be a strong contender for the US team, too. Rollins set a new collegiate record of 12.39 in winning the 100 hurdles, a time that is just .06 seconds off Gail Dever's 13 year-old American record . . . Collegiate high jump record-holder Brigetta Barrett of Arizona didn't set a record, but cleared 6-04.75 to win the event by more than three inches . . . Another Arizona athlete, Lawi Lalang, won the 5000 meters on Saturday to go with his 10000 meter win on Thursday . . . Despite finishing third, UO's Sam Crouser was disappointed in his performance in the javelin, telling reporters, "I'm disappointed to say the least. I expected a little more. I'm used to the headwind more than anyone, so there's no excuses, (because) this is my home field." Crouser's best throw was 239-09, well below his season and personal bests. Texas A&M senior Sam Humphreys won the javelin with a throw of 255-09.
 
 

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