USA Meets Open In Style For Ducks
EUGENE, Ore. — One member of the Oregon track and field program captured a national championship Thursday afternoon, and two others left Hayward Field with some most welcome feelings of redemption.
Both the USATF Outdoor Championships and concurrent USATF U20 meet began Thursday at Hayward Field, and more than a dozen athletes with UO ties were in action. The meet began for the Ducks with a bang, as Bend native and current freshman Kohana Nakato won the U20 national title in the women's javelin.
Later, Micah Williams rebounded from a seventh-place finish in the NCAA Outdoor Championships by advancing to the semifinals of the men's 100 meters. And Reed Brown bounced back from failing to reach the NCAA meet by joining three other runners with UO ties to advance to Saturday's final of the men's 1,500 meters.
Like Brown, Nakato saw her collegiate season end in the NCAA West Preliminary meet, where she finished 13th — one spot shy of advancing to the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field. Sitting in second after the fourth round Thursday, the Bend, Ore., native got the implement out to 48.11m/157-10 on her fifth attempt to move into the lead.
Just over a year ago, Nakato won the javelin for the 2021 NSAF Outdoor National (high school) title at Hayward Field. During her freshman campaign at Oregon, she finished third at the Pac-12 Championships — also in Eugene — and recorded a best of 49.84m/163-6 at the NCAA West Preliminary in Fayetteville, Ark.
"(Today) felt amazing," Nakato said. "It was great especially with the weather and getting back to throwing. It's been awhile after regionals so I'm proud of my performance."
Nakato is in line to represent the United States at the 2022 World U20 Championships from Aug. 1-6 in Cali, Colombia, but does not yet have the standard (50.00m). According to the World Athletics website, the qualification period runs until three weeks before the competition.
In all there were nine Oregon runners or UO alums in the men's 1,500 field, and arguably the biggest name among them — Cole Hocker — didn't advance Thursday. But Brown did, after himself not advancing through the NCAA West Preliminary meet a month ago.
On Thursday, Brown was third in his heat in 3 minutes, 39.04 seconds. Alums Johnny Gregorek (3:38.95), Sam Prakel (3:40.91) and Cooper Teare (3:41.27) each also captured a top-three finish in his heat and qualified automatically for Saturday's final.
"Definitely a big rebound from the end of that NCAA season," Brown said. "Really excited with the result — and kind of a little surprising. But on to Saturday, which is what I was hoping to do anyway.
"I haven't really had the greatest of training, the most consistent. I've been sick; I've been kind of injured a little bit. So just coming back and having a great race like that, it's nice."
Brown ran in Thursday's first heat, in which Hocker was sixth in 3:39.57. That put Hocker on the bubble to advance on time, and though the second heat including Prakel and Teare didn't bump him off, Gregorek and the third heat were fast enough to do so. Hocker is also entered in Sunday's 5,000, along with Teare and Eric Jenkins; Hocker and Jenkins were two of five athletes with UO ties who didn't advance to the 1,500 final, along with Jack Yearian, Matt Wisner and Colby Alexander.
Prakel wanted to leave nothing to chance in his heat, opening up a gap on the rest of the field over the final lap before easing up over the homestretch. Teare, on the other hand, was around fifth entering the Bowerman Curve but powered past several runners to take second in the heat behind Prakel.
"I think I needed that — I haven't raced in like a month," Teare said. "So it's good to get that gear change going, and I felt like I had a really good move. You know, got out of that box at 250, and my last 150 I felt was pretty good. Passed a couple of really good guys and, you know, kind of shut it down that last 50 meters when I knew I was safe. So we're gonna take it to the line on Saturday and hope to get myself a spot at Worlds."
The women's 800 field also included a flock of Ducks, as the trio of Raevyn Rogers, Sabrina Southerland and Brooke Feldmeier all had top-three heat finishes to advance automatically. Rogers was second in her heat in 2:01.10 and Southerland was third in the same heat in 2:01.28, while Feldmeier posted a personal best of 2:01.45 to take third in her heat.
Feldmeier ran 2:00.92 indoors over the winter but then dealt with an injury. She said she'd only been running about three weeks before taking to the track for Thursday's 800. Feldmeier was fourth in the backstretch of the bell lap but stayed attached to the lead group and pushed into third in the homestretch to wrap up a qualifying spot.
"I knew that I could," she said. "I was like, all right, let me dig down. We're gonna get this. That competitive nature came out."
Williams was an automatic qualifier in the 100, one year after taking fifth in the U.S. Olympic Trials and making the relay pool for the Tokyo Games. On Thursday he got off to a much better start than in the NCAA final earlier this month, finishing third in his heat in 10.11 seconds.
"I'm happy I made it," Williams said. "That's the biggest thing — just survive and advance. And hopefully get to the final tomorrow and make the team."
UO alum Kyree King also advanced to Friday's semifinal round, finishing second in his heat in 10.17 seconds.
The women's 100 also featured two Ducks, with alum Jenna Prandini advancing in 11.18 seconds but English Gardner coming up short in 11.32. Prandini kicked off a busy week that potentially will feature six rounds of racing across the 100 and 200 meters.
"Once you get the ball rolling, it's a lot easier," Prandini said. "Kind of got the jitters out. Now, get back, reset, refocus, eat, fuel up and get ready for tomorrow."
The Ducks also had two alums in the long jump, where Rhesa Foster was 11th with a season-best mark of 20 feet, 7 inches, and Jasmine Todd was 14th at 20-3.75. Jackson Mestler did not advance in the 3,000 steeplechase, running 8:58.31, while current freshman Harper McClain was third in the U20 5,000 in 16:48.23.