BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Jessica Hull flashed a wide smile after crossing the finish line Saturday evening.
Then, she turned to Arkansas’ Taylor Werner, whom she’d just outkicked in the women’s 3,000 meters, and gave her a celebratory hug.
“I definitely soaked it up and took it in because it doesn’t come around very often,” said Hull, Oregon’s star senior distance runner, “so you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Hull’s victory, clinched with a time of 9 minutes, 1.14 seconds, highlighted the Ducks’ second day at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and lifted the women’s team to a surprising third-place finish.
Oregon entered the meet ranked eighth.
“Great job, phenomenal job,” Ducks coach Robert Johnson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them and their effort and the things that they’ve done this weekend.”
The Oregon women tallied 32 points to finish behind Arkansas (62) and USC (51) at the Birmingham CrossPlex. It was their ninth top-three finish at a national indoor meet in the past 10 years.
Hull helped make it possible.
She anchored Oregon’s title-winning distance medley relay Friday night, splitting 4:30.04 in the 1,600, before rebounding for the 3,000. Hull said that the DMR wasn't on her mind when she toed the starting line Saturday evening.
“I kind of blocked that out,” Hull said. “I don’t think about how I feel. I just think about how I can execute.”
She executed to perfection.
Hull positioned herself in the middle of a tightly packed field that came through 1,600 meters in just over five minutes. She then began to move up gradually during the second mile and slid into fourth place with four laps to go.
New Mexico’s Weini Kelati tried to break the race open, but Hull and Werner kept her within reach. The duo overtook Kelati with two laps remaining. From there, it was a two-person race.
Hull seized her first lead at the bell lap and didn’t relinquish it. She closed her final 200-meter lap in 31.26 seconds.
Werner was second in 9:01.75.
“I knew if I could be there with 400 to go, I would find something whether I felt good or not,” Hull said.
Hull’s triumph capped a stellar indoor campaign. Earlier in the season, she broke the Oregon school records in the 3,000 and mile.
Now, she’ll set her sights on defending her outdoor 1,500-meter title.
“She’s one that bleeds green and yellow, and you saw that today,” Johnson said. “She’ll do anything for the team, and we’re lucky to have her.”
Hull’s fellow senior, Chaquinn Cook, also delivered for the Ducks on Saturday. She broke her own school record in the women’s triple jump with a leap of 45 feet, 4½ inches.
Cook was second to Florida’s Yanis David, who jumped 46-0½.
“It didn’t feel as big as it was,” Cook said of her mark, “but just looking at it, I was like, ‘OK, you know, I got one underneath my belt.’”
Cook recorded her historic leap on her third jump of the day. She said that she knew it had potential upon takeoff, and she clapped in celebration while climbing out of the sand pit.
The performance proved redemptive. Cook finished outside the top eight at the 2018 indoor meet.
“Just looking back, from last year to now, it’s definitely a bigger accomplishment,” Cook said. “I just am very thankful for where I ended up."
The Oregon men tied with Indiana for 18th place in the team standings with 11 points, while Florida and Houston swept the top two spots.
The Ducks entered the meet ranked ninth.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Johnson said. “Once again, the standard there is to get a trophy, and we didn’t get one of those on the men’s side.”
Charlie Hunter, Cooper Teare and Cravon Gillespie scored for Oregon on Saturday. Hunter took eighth in the mile (4:09.36), while Teare took fourth in the 3,000 (7:55.5).
Gillespie, who barely qualified for the meet, finished fourth in the 60-meter dash. He ran 6.57 seconds to tie the Oregon school record.
“To come here, to give everything I’ve got, you know, I’ll take it,” Gillespie said.