By Lev Rourke
Photos by Kim Spir, and courtesy of Southern Oregon University and the University of Washington
Who’s the highest-ranked Oregon college cross country team, a month into the 2009 season? It’s not those pesky Ducks.
Nope, it’s the men’s team at Southern Oregon, who won the Gold Race at the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational over the weekend and as a result moved up four places from 6th to 2nd in the NAIA national rankings. It’s the highest ranking ever for the well-shorn hippie Raiders from Ashland.
“The men ran an awesome race,” Coach Brent Ericksen said. Photo above courtesy of http://souraiders.com/index.aspx?tab=crosscountry&path=cross.
Meanwhile, an hour to the south, the Oregon men’s and women’s squads were both getting whipped in their own Bill Dellinger Invitational, losing to nationally ranked teams on a fast course at the Springfield Country Club. While it was the Ducks’ season opener after a long training camp in the Cascades, the defeats exposed weaknesses in both squads.
The men’s team, two-time national champions on the shoulders of Galen Rupp and Shadrack Biwott, finished 3rd behind Alabama and BYU and just 2 points ahead of their local rivals, the University of Portland.
“We could have beaten them,” roared the Portland coach, Rob Conner, referring to what happened to his ace, Alfred Kipchumba, in the last half-mile of last Friday’s race, run on what can be a slippery grass course. Kipchumba, actually the defending champion of the Dellinger meet – Rupp sat out the 2008 event – was in the lead group at that point but got tangled up with other runners, fell, injured his right arm, and wound up 6th. Oregon took 3rd, 71 to 73.
The men’s team had opened the season as the nation’s top-ranked team, on the strength of defending last year’s championship, but this outcome dropped them to 7th in this week’s poll, just ahead of the U of P. Now in 1st is Oregon’s conference rival, Stanford. All three of those teams will battle for berths at the NCAA a month from now back on the Springfield course at the West Regional.
Alabamans Tyson David and David Kiptoo went 1-2, while Oregon put just two in the Top 10, miler Matthew Centrowitz (4th) and Danny Mercado (8th). Then came two fine freshmen for Portland, North Dakotan Joash Osoro (9th) and Alaskan Trevor Dunbar (10th). The other scoring Ducks were Luke Puskedra (11th), A. J. Acosta (23rd) and Danny Mercado’s twin brother, Diego (25th), who finished just ahead of freshman Mac Fleet, who ran unattached. Puskedra, 5th at nationals a year ago as a freshman, was in the lead pack until the late going. “He can run better than that,” Oregon Coach Vin Lananna said afterward.
Behind Stanford in this week’s rankings are Northern Arizona and Alabama. The Crimson Tide, all-Kenyan, scored 53, 10 better than BYU, at the Dellinger meet. Oklahoma State, 2nd last week, slipped to a tie for 4th in the rankings after finishing 4th in their own Cowboy Jamboree. The Cowboys though ran without their top two runners, German Fernandez and Oregon native Ryan Vail. Northern Arizona won that race.
The West Regional is also where Oregonians will get their only look this season at the reigning national women’s champions, the wunderkind Washington Huskies, who are ranked No. 1 to start this season and who ran all over 21 other teams at Notre Dame over the weekend. The UW went 1-2-3-4-23 to halve 2nd-place Princeton, 33-68.
The Oregon women began the season ranked No. 2 – the position they finished in at last year’s NCAA, behind the Dogs – but they were overwhelmed at Dellinger by intruders from the East, Villanova, 22-41. “This was not an Oregon-focused race for us,” Sheila Reid, the winner of the race for Villanova, confidently said afterward. That is, she was implying, perhaps the Ducks women should have been focusing on them.
As a result of their big win, Villanova climbed all the way to 2nd place in this week’s national rankings, behind Washington, while Oregon slipped to 4th, just behind West Virginia.
Junior Alex Kosinski finished No. 1 for the Ducks, just 3 seconds behind Reid, a halfmiler from Canada who set a course record for the 5k distance, 16:23. “I thought I might be able to outkick her,” said Kosinski, a 4:18 1,500-meter runner, “but she had another gear.” Overconfidence, perhaps? Reid, after all, has run 2:08/4:20 on the track.
The star freshman Jordan Hasay came next for the Ducks, finishing 6th, sandwiched between Wildcats Amanda Marino (4th), Nicole Schappert (5th), Bogdana Mimic (7th) and Kaitlyn Tallman (9th). The dominance was clear, as ‘Nova put its No. 5 ahead of Oregon’s No. 3.
The most positive news for the Oregon women was the 12th-place finish by Lauren Zaludek, an oft-injured senior from nearby Elmira H.S. “She’s been working her butt off all summer,” said one observer. Then came steeplechaser Claire Michel (13) and senior Nicole Blood (15). Blood, the veteran star of the team, faded in the second half of the race.
The young U of P women’s team was a well-beaten 9th, well behind one of its conference rivals, USF (6th). Only the top two finishing teams at the West Coast Conference championships get berths at the Regionals, and Portland must also contend with a rising star to the north, the young Gonzaga team.
At the Willamette meet, Chico State, a highly ranked Div. II team, won the men’s Cardinal race over Boise State, the host team, and Idaho. Southern Oregon won the Gold race over an NAIA rival, Embry-Riddle, which came all the way from Florida for the race. In this week’s NAIA rankings, Southern Oregon and Embry-Riddle were 2-3 behind Malone of Ohio, which has led that poll 27 straight weeks.
David Laney, a sophomore from Central Catholic, was 2nd in the race for Southern O, 24 seconds behind Abednego Magut, a Kenyan at Azusa Pacific. The Raiders’ other scorers were Chris Paterson of Forest Grove (11th), Ryan Sorenson of Wyoming (19th), Zach Elliott of Crater (20th) and Californian Ryan Ghelfi (22nd), whose hometown of Redding actually makes him the closest to home in the Siskiyous.
The University of British Columbia finished 3rd in the race, just ahead of Lewis-Clark of Idaho and Eastern Oregon. UBC is ranked 5th nationally this week, L-C 11th, Eastern 21st.
The women’s races were won by Azusa, the nation’s No.-1 ranked NAIA team, led by Jacky Kipwambok, and by Chico State. Whitworth and Whitman ran well in the Cardinal race; both are ranked nationally in NCAA Div. III.
The University of Washington women overwhelmed an excellent field at the Notre Dame Invitational, not far from the NCAA course in nearby Terre Haute, Ind., and showed someone will have to be at the top of their game to beat them. The top four spots went to Kendra Schaaf, Katie Follett, Mel Lawrence and Christine Babcock, all returnees from last year’s championship squad. Photo courtesy of http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/c-xc/spec-rel/100709aaa.html.
Joe Darda has a nice article this week on the Huskies’ budding dynasty at gohuskies.com, while Robert Husseman has a revealing interview with the Oregon freshman Hasay on the dailyemerald.com.