The Ducks got what they came for and then some Thursday.
Despite limited practice time and with several top runners sitting out, Oregon opened its cross country season with a pair of individual wins and one team title during the Oregon XC Preview meet on Pre’s Trail and Alton Baker Park.
Led by a 1-2 finish from James West and Jackson Mestler, the No. 8 Oregon men scored 19 points to defeat No. 3 Portland (36 points), Lane Community College (82) and Northwest Christian College (95).
Susan Ejore and Amanda Gehrich also went 1-2 for the No. 4 Oregon women, but it was Portland which won the team title with 28 points to 29 for the Ducks. The Beacons were third with 80 and the Titans scored 105.
“It’s a positive first step, but it’s way too early in the season to make anything out of it other than a good effort for the kids,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said.
The Ducks only reunited as a team Monday and leave for a couple weeks of team training camp in Sunriver on Friday morning. They’ll return just in time for the Sept. 21 Bill Dellinger Invitational at the Springfield Golf Club.
It was that gap between races that compelled West to compete Thursday, despite only recently arriving back in Oregon after a summer spent at home in England.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to race to honest, (coach Ben Thomas) said it was up to me,” West said. “It was just case of getting a run out before Dellinger, really. I didn’t want to open up at Dellinger.”
West wasn’t second-guessing his decision after finishing the 7,000-meter course in 21 minutes, 49.25 seconds, just ahead of Mestler, who crossed in 21:50.31.
Other top-10 finishers for Oregon included Blake Haney in fourth (21:59.88), Levi Thomet in sixth (22:03.27) and Jack Yearian in ninth (22:07.47).
Cooper Teare, Oregon’s top returning runner, was one of three Ducks who ran unattached. He was fifth in 21:59.89, and Charlie Hunter was seventh in 22:04.04.
“I had a long summer and definitely not in shape yet,” said Teare, the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2017. “It was definitely a good race just to get the feel of racing without being super competitive.”
West was going for a nice, easy effort as well, until an opening presented itself late in the race to take the lead.
“I was in about third for a fair amount of the way and when we turned the second lap, the gap sort of opened up and I thought I might as well get a clear line and get into position,” West said. “I thought I might as well take this and control it from the front and see if I have anything left at the end and I had quite a bit left.”
Ejore never had to worry if she had anything left for the end because there was no one with 30 seconds of her after she ditched the field midway through her 5,000-meter race to win in 16:09.54. Gehrich, a junior transfer from Utah running her first cross country race as a Duck, was second in 16:39.43.
“I felt pretty good on the first mile and how we executed the race,” said Ejore, a senior from Kenya. “On the second lap I just went for it. … I was looking behind and feeling pretty good.”
Ejore joined the Ducks last season but her debut was slowed by injuries before she broke out on the track as a member of the distance medley relay team that won the NCAA Indoor title. She also finished fourth in the 800 at the Pac-12 outdoor meet.
“This is a chance for her to really, really put a stamp on what this season is going to be like,” Johnson said. “For her to be able to get the strength and the endurance and the foundation here in cross country and then be able to turn it over in the 800 and mile indoors definitely bodes well for our future.”
A trio of freshman filled out the scoring for the Ducks with Taylor Chiotti placing fifth in 17:13.76, Melissa Berry placing ninth in 17:32.97 and Caramia Mestler finishing 12th in 17:42.41.
The Oregon women didn’t run 2017 all-American Carmela Cardama Baez, Jessica Hull, or newcomers Weronika Pyzik, Isabelle Brauer or Philippa Bowden.
“This was kind of chance to see what our personnel looks like,” Johnson said. “Some ran, some didn’t run, but just a good overall effort.”