SPRINGFIELD — Ben Thomas got his first real glimpse of the Oregon men’s cross country team Saturday morning and the Ducks’ second-year coach definitely liked what he saw.
Led by top finishers James West and Cooper Teare, newcomers Cole Hocker and Noah Affolder, and steady veteran Jackson Mestler, No. 11 Oregon knocked off No. 2 BYU to win the Bill Dellinger Invitational at Pine Ridge Golf Club.
“They executed exceptionally well today,” Thomas said.
West and Cooper followed each other across the finish line in third and fourth place, respectively, Hocker was ninth, Affolder 14th and Mestler 24th as Oregon scored 54 points to win the 14-team meet.
The Cougars, led by individual winner Conner Mantz, scored 60 points. No. 24 UCLA was third with 62 points and No. 7 Portland faded to fifth with 182.
“I think the sky’s the limit now,” Teare said. “This was just to see where we’re at and to come out with a victory against really great teams just shows the first step towards our end goal of being a podium team at nationals and trying to get a win there. ‘Why not us?’ has kind of been our mentality.”
The No. 10 Oregon women, led by senior Susan Ejore’s third-place finish, finished fourth in their 13-team race with 143 points, behind No. 6 BYU (35), No. 13 Boise State (81) and Air Force (103). Oregon State was also fifth with 172 points.
“We were hoping for a top-three finish and we definitely were a little bit rusty today and didn’t do a great job of running collectively,” Oregon women’s associate head coach Helen Lehman-Winters said. “… We’ll get back to work for the next three weeks and bring it back to Wisconsin.”
Oregon doesn’t compete again until the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison on Oct. 18.
The men’s team will head into the next training block with a full head of steam following Saturday’s impressive showing.
West, who had just one week off between his race in the 1,500-meter final at the British Championships on Aug. 25 and his return to Oregon for cross country team camp, looked fit and not at all worn down from a 2019 track season that lasted nearly the entire summer.
The senior was in 55th place early on but steadily moved up and eventually passed Teare late to finish the 8,000-meter race in 23 minutes, 32.8 seconds.
“I was told to be patient today but I just felt really good the whole way around and just kept picking people off,” West said. “So, very surprised to come in third, but that feels really good. I think today showed that base is still there and I’m really looking forward to getting some more high-mileage weeks in.”
Teare looked like man on a mission as he immediately moved to the front of the 143-man field and stayed with the lead group until Mantz and UCLA senior Robert Brandt pulled away.
Teare finished in 23:34.10, behind West, Mantz (23:24.7) and Brandt (23:26.4).
“I like to race, I like to be up front, I want to win any race I’m in and I certainly think I can do that everyday when come out to the course,” Teare said. “But I think I paid for it a little bit. The last 2-3K, I was hurting.”
Hocker, a freshman making his Oregon debut, finished in 23:42.8. Affolder, a junior transfer from Syracuse, finished in 23:54.8, and Mestler crossed in 24:04.3.
“It’s fun to be at home and to win,” Thomas said. “But it mean’s nothing unless we build off of it going forward. … We have three weeks now until Wisconsin so it’s definitely a confidence booster going into that, but we’ve got to keep building.”
Like Teare, Ejore aggressively slid into the front of the pack as soon as the gun went off in the women’s 6,000-meter race that went 142 runners deep. She too stuck with the leaders until the BYU’s Whittni Orton and Erica Birk pulled away.
Orton won in 19:25.8 and Birk was second in 19:30.8. Ejore prevented the Cougars from a 1-2-3 sweep when she passed Courtney Wayment as they sprinted towards the finish line. Ejore crossed in 19:41.7 to 19:42.7 for Wayment.
Ejore said she wasn’t looking to run from the front as much as she didn’t to get stuck in the middle of the pack.
“I didn’t want to be boxed in,” she said. “I kind of found myself there so I was like ‘OK, I’ve to go with it.’”
Oregon sophomore Taylor Chiotti placed 11th in 20:06.9, Amanda Gehrich was 25th in 20:32.6, Moira O’Shea was 54th in 20:56.6 and Phily Bowden was 74th in 21:12.5.
“Susan Ejore ran really well up front, Taylor Chiotti was phenomenal for our second position, but a little bit scattered after that,” Lehman-Winters said.
Oregon senior Isabelle Brauer, a 2017 all-American, was entered but didn’t run.
“We’re keeping people healthy to be ready when it matters most,” Lehman-Winters said. “She’ll be in the lineup at Wisconsin.”
Sophomore Mari Friedman led the Beavers with a 32nd-place finish in 20:36.3.
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