No trophies will be won this week in Sacramento, no medals handed out, or spots in history secured.
And yet, the nature of the NCAA West Preliminary Track & Field meet can make it a more nerve-wracking experience than some championship meets, Oregon coach Robert Johnson said.
“A little bit, because you do or you don’t,” he said. “You execute or you go home, no ifs ands or buts about it. And with so many numbers there, things are just different.”
The Ducks’ fifth-ranked men’s and women’s teams have a combined 60 entries in the three-day meet taking place at Hornet Stadium from Thursday through Saturday.
Each event has 48 participants, with the top 12 finishers in each joining the 12 qualifiers from the NCAA East Preliminary meet taking place in Tampa, Fla., back in Eugene for the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 6-9. The exception is the decathlon and heptathlon, in which the top 24 in the national rankings automatically advance.
“I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of regionals, but this is kind of the way our sport is set up, to go through these things,” said Johnson, who would prefer to use a descending order list to select the NCAA championship qualifiers. “So when those are the rules, we’ll play those rules and we’ll do well playing by those rules because that’s just our mentality. No matter what it is, we’ll figure out a way to be successful at it.”
Neither Oregon team has the type of guaranteed NCAA scorers they’ve had in recent years, when the likes of Raevyn Rogers and Edward Cheserek were essentially locks to win their respective events. It’ll be more of a numbers game this season for the Ducks, who have plenty of potential qualifiers with 31 entries for the defending NCAA champion women’s team, and 29 on the men’s side.
Here are some story lines to follow in Sacramento:
Will Ariana Washington return to form?
The redshirt junior appears to be in her last season at Oregon after participating in senior ceremonies during the Oregon Twilight meet at Hayward Field earlier this month. But it has hardly been a memorable final season. There isn’t a sprinter in the NCAA with Washington’s credentials. She was an Olympic relay alternate in 2016 and a World Outdoor Championships qualifier in the 100 in 2017. She’s also a three-time NCAA champion, having swept the 100 and 200 outdoors in 2016 and winning the 200 indoors in 2017. But this season she's ranked 16th in the 100 (11.14) and 23rd in the 200 (22.92). Among her NCAA West Prelim competitors, she's ranked sixth in the 100 and eighth in the 200. Getting Washington qualified and on track for the NCAAs is critical for the Ducks.
Oregon's men in the middle
The strength of the men’s team is its talented collection of 1,500 runners. Four are entered this weekend, and it's important that the Ducks get all of them qualified for the championship meet. Pac-12 champion Sam Prakel, James West, Reed Brown and Mick Stanovsek have each set their PR this season and are ranked 4-5-8-11, respectively, in the NCAA overall, and 2-3-6-7 among NCAA West Prelim entries.
No double for Dunmore
Sophomore sprinter Makenzie Dunmore is ranked third nationally in the 200 and 400 but will only run the 400 as an individual event this week. The 200 and 400 is a hard enough double as is, but Dunmore is also expected to be on both relay teams, which will run their quarterfinal races Saturday, the same day as the 200 quarterfinal. Thus, the Pac-12 200 champion will focus on the 400 heats Thursday and Friday and then the relays Saturday.
Redemption for Damarcus Simpson
The redshirt senior is now a two-time Pac-12 champion in the long jump and the NCAA leader at 27 feet, 4 inches. But last season at this meet, the 2016 Olympic Trials finalist became the poster boy for what could go wrong at the prelim meets when he fouled on three attempts and didn’t qualify for the national championships, though he did make it back to Hayward Field in the 100. He’s entered in both events again this week.
Women's middle-distance dominance
Redshirt senior Sabrina Southerland and redshirt sophomore Jessica Hull are two of the nation’s best in the 800 and 1,500, respectively, and will give the Ducks two legitimate NCAA championship contenders if they qualify. Southerland, the NCAA Indoor champ, is ranked second in the NCAA in her event and Hull is ranked third. They won’t be alone in their races this week. Katie Rainsberger, who was fourth in the NCAA 1,500 last season, has been racing herself into shape the past month after injuries derailed her for most of 2018. If she can qualify this week and then have two more weeks of training before the NCAA meet, who knows what the sophomore could do. Amanda Gehrich is also entered in the 1,500 and Susan Ejore is in the 800.