Oregon women sprint group on track to make history
SEATTLE -- The Ducks certainly had their day (or rather, weekend) at the Pac-12 Track and Field Championships. The Men of Oregon won their tenth straight conference title and the Women of Oregon won their eighth straight title.
Among the flock, there exists a smaller squad, one that has been emerging over the past few years and evolving into the dominant force it is now: the women sprinters.
The Oregon women sprint group started turning heads years ago, when head coach Robert Johnson came on board in 2005, first as an assistant coach. Under his charge, the women rewrote the Oregon history books. Every women’s sprint event and relay school record, with the exception of the 400m hurdles, has been broken with Johnson at the helm.
Most recently, sprint stars such as English Gardner (Oregon ’13) and Jenna Prandini (Oregon ’15) have gone from training at Hayward Field to the world stage. Gardner competed on the silver medal winning 4x100m relay team at both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. Prandini joined Gardner on the same 4x100m relay team at the 2015 World Championships and represented the United States in the 200m at the same event. On top of Gardner and Prandini, current Duck Jasmine Todd was also on the 2015 World Championship team, and also on the same 4x100m relay team.
Before the ink was even dry from the records broken by Gardner and Prandini while Ducks, a new group of fast as Duck women is ready to rewrite them.
The relay squad of Todd, Deajah Stevens, Ariana Washington, and Hannah Cunliffe garnered national attention when they ran a smoking and school-record setting 42.88 second 4x100m relay at the Pepsi Invitational, only to break it a week later with a 42.68 second 4x100m relay at the Mt. Sac Relays.
Their time at Mt. Sac still stands as the third fastest in the entire world this year.
This weekend at the Pac-12 Track and Field Championships, the sprint super squad reassembled to take the conference title in the same relay in 42.71 seconds, a new championship meet record.
In fact, three of the four women on the relay team (Cunliffe, Stevens and Washington) went on to sweep not only the 100m at the Pac-12 Championships, but also the 200m. Between the three of them, including the relay, they accounted for 58 of the Ducks’ 185 total points.
Also among scoring women sprinters of Oregon were Danielle Barbian (6th place in the 100m), Ashante Horsley (4th place in the 400), Sasha Wallace (1st place in the 100m hurdles), and Alaysha Johnson (3rd place in the 100m hurdles). Overall, the women of Oregon who raced one lap or shorter accounted for 82 points for the Ducks.
What is it about this generation of Oregon women sprinters that makes them so special? They’ve got fire and family.
“It’s always been about the Men of Oregon, and we just got tired of it, honestly,” laughs Washington. “We just work really well as a unit.”
That one-unit attitude is apparent both on and off the track, seen between events with constant encouragement (and dancing).
“We train together and believe in each other and trust each other so it makes it easier to run fast,” says Stevens.
Coach Johnson recognizes the caliber of female sprinters he has on the team. “I saw some stat about the Oregon sweeps and there was something there that was pretty impressive,” says Johnson. “To have our names associated with that [and] in that event group, being where we’re from and it being Oregon, felt really special.”
The “it being Oregon” Johnson mentions alludes to the Ducks’ storied tradition of being nationally dominant in the men’s distance events, rather than women sprints.
Johnson attributes much of the female sprinters’ success to Coach Curtis Taylor, who joined the program in 2013 with the focus on coaching sprints, hurdles and relays.
“What he [Coach Taylor] has done with that group is nothing short of amazing. For them to come here and put on display what we worked so hard for in Eugene is definitely special. This thing has been building for a while,” says Johnson.
Despite the competitiveness, there is no isolation among the team. Johnson says they work hard as a program to be one “cohesive unit” and pull for each other, no matter the event group they belong to on the roster. This was apparent this weekend, as hoards of Ducks spread around the track cheering for their teammates.
Oregon sophomore Raevyn Rogers, who won the 800m in 2:02.41 this weekend, recognizes growth of the Oregon women on the track and is excited to be a part of it.
“We’re trying to make our mark,” says Rogers. “The men have done their part, but now we’re trying to do ours to make history as the Women of Oregon.”
If this weekend of Duck domination is any indication, it looks like they’re on the right track.