Life without Hayward Field has been a bit of a balancing act for the Oregon track and field teams.
As construction continues on the rebuild of their former historic home, the Ducks have been preparing for the upcoming indoor season where and when they can, using the facilities at Lane Community College, Hamlin Middle School in Springfield, and at the Moshofsky Center.
Now Oregon’s vagabond teams have loaded up two buses full of athletes and traveled north to Seattle for Saturday’s season-opening UW Preview meet at Dempsey Indoor.
“We’re kind of champing at the bit for this,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said Wednesday afternoon inside the Moshofsky Center. “Outside of our cross country coaches Ben (Thomas) and Helen (Lehman-Winters), they’re the only ones who have been through a season yet. Us other coaches are really excited about the opportunity to get up there and actually see what happens when the lights come on.”
The Ducks were the nation’s dominant indoor program for much of the last decade until having a down season by their standards in 2018.
The Oregon women won seven NCAA indoor titles between 2010-2017 with a second-place finish in 2015 the only thing preventing an eight-year championship run.
The Oregon men won three straight titles between 2014-2016 and were third in 2017.
But last season the Ducks were fifth in the women’s standings and tied for 13th in the men’s standings.
Due to the departure of some talented seniors and the transfers of other top performers, the Ducks are thin on athletes who have had proven success during the indoor season.
Oregon has 11 athletes total who have competed at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in their careers, seven who have scored at the national meet but only four who have scored in an individual event.
What Oregon does have, however, is intriguing potential.
Both teams have added several well-credentialed sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers who could be stars in the making, while the women have also bolstered their distance team with a handful newcomers who have already flashed their ability during the cross country season when the Ducks placed third at the NCAA championships.
Saturday at the UW Preview meet, 20 of the athletes the Ducks have entered will compete in an Oregon uniform for the first time.
“We have lots of newcomers on our team,” Johnson said. “So to see them get in their first competition and compete … we can better formalize where our strengths and weaknesses are and then come up with a game to strengthen them by the time we get to March.”
Among the returning Ducks are three members of their national champion women’s distance medley relay team in seniors Jessica Hull, Susan Ejore and Venessa D’Arpino, as well as two members of their third-place 4x400 team in senior Briyahna Desrosiers and junior Makenzie Dunmore.
Hull is also the Oregon women’s lone individual scorer returning from last season. She was third in the 3,000. After her 2018 outdoor season ended with a national title in the 1,500 and her cross country season included a third-place finish at the NCAA meet, Hull was one of 10 athletes on the initial 2019 watch list for The Bowerman Award.
“She did such a phenomenal job this year and at the end of last year,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things where it’s almost expected.”
On the men’s side, senior James West was sixth in the 3,000 last year and sophomore Reed Brown was eighth in the mile.
West and senior Blake Haney were also members of the third-place DMR team, and Haney, Reed and sophomore Cooper Teare were three of five Ducks who ran under 4 minutes in the mile last season.
“Those guys are really, really talented and someone we’re going to look forward to when we try to mount the charge to contend for a trophy,” Johnson said of his men’s milers.
Saturday’s meet is the first of three indoor meets at Dempsey for the Ducks, who will return to Seattle next month for the Husky Classic on Feb. 8-9, and then again for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship meet Feb. 22-23. The NCAA Indoor meet is in Birmingham, Ala., on March 8-9.