Oregon men, women extend Pac-12 Track & Field Championships streak
LOS ANGELES – Oregon track has never celebrated second place so hard.
The entire team, donning their warmups and huddled together to the left of the infield podium late Sunday afternoon, screamed and jumped and pumped their fists as the UO women’s 4x4 relay team stepped onto the black-carpeted platform to accept the runner-up trophy.
Typically second place isn’t cause for jubilation for TrackTown’s home team, but that finish is what sealed the deal for the Oregon women’s seventh consecutive conference championship. The Duck men had already clinched their ninth consecutive title earlier with an Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins 1-2 finish in the men’s 5k.
The USC women flew out of the gates on Sunday, sprinting their way to victories in the 4x100 relay, 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash. Oregon’s women responded with consecutive victories in the 100-meter dash and 800-meter run before the Trojans went 1-2 in the 400-meter hurdles.
The momentum seemed to shift USC’s way after Oregon sophomore Jasmine Todd, who was favored to win the 200 heading into Sunday, slipped to fourth place behind a Troy sweep of Tynia Gaither, Alexis Faulknor and Deanna Hill. That result moved the Trojans into the lead, though it was slim and brief: Oregon regained a five-point advantage with the following race, thanks to three Ducks scoring in the women’s 5,000-meter run.
So, when it was time for the 4x400 relay – the women’s final race of the Pac-12 Championships – to take the blocks, it was game on. All Oregon needed was a third-place finish to win it all, or fourth to tie.
Oregon freshman Raevyn Rogers started the race off strong, putting distance between her and the competition as she finished the first leg. But USC’s Amalie Iuel and Stanford’s Olivia Baker took over in the second leg, challenging Oregon’s Christian Brennan to keep up. That challenge remained at the beginning of the third leg, where USC’s Kendall Ellis and Stanford’s Kaitlyn Williams duked it out heading into the first turn. Williams had blocked Ellis from the inside lane, so the Trojan turned on the burners and spent precious energy within the first 100 meters to pass the Cardinal sprinter and fly the rest of the way. By the time Ellis handed off to USC anchor Vanessa Jones, it was Jones’ race to lose.
The senior got the job done, speeding to a 3:32.12 win. But the Ducks were not far behind; certainly not far enough behind to finish out of the top three. Oregon’s Rogers, Brennan and Annie Leblanc shouted “All the way! All the way to the finish!” as anchor Ashante Horsley came down the final stretch.
And finish she did. Horsley beat out Stanford’s Claudia Saunders and Arizona State’s Brianna Tate to cross the white stripe at 3:34.73.
It was good enough for second place. Good enough for a team championship.
“Before the race, Coach (Robert Johnson) said, ‘What does it mean to be Oregon? Go out and show it,’ Rogers said. “And we did.”
“That might be a record for holding my breath, that 3:34 there,” Johnson joked, exhaling with force.
Rogers, Brennan and Leblanc charged Horsley at the finish line, hugging and bouncing and laughing – perhaps in disbelief, perhaps in relief. When they found their breathing too labored to continue, they stopped. The teammates, arms around each other's waists, strolled off the track.
"Did we win Pac-12's?" one asked quietly, smile wide.
"We did," another answered.
"That's what it's like to fight."