Beard's hairy leg trips Ducks.
DES MOINES, Iowa - One lap.
That's all that separated the Oregon women from their first national outdoor title since 1985 at the NCAA Track & Field Championships at sunny Drake Stadium on Saturday.
But along came Texas A&M's Jessica Beard.
The Aggie senior took the baton on the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay in second place, a couple of strides behind UO freshman Laura Roesler, in the final and decisive event of the storm-plagued meet.
As 9,054 spectators stood in anticipation, they knew that Texas A&M and Oregon were deadlocked with 39 points apiece in the team race. The winner between those two schools in the relay would claim the championship trophy.
Beard, who earlier in the meet had won the open 400-meter crown, needed only about 80 meters to pass Roesler, and she didn't throttle down until she had crossed the finish line in first place.
Not only did that secure a third straight NCAA outdoor title for the Aggies, but her 49.14 split was the fastest in meet history as A&M prevailed in a stadium record of 3 minutes, 26.31 seconds.
"I was expecting her," Roesler said. "But I wasn't expecting her to come by that fast. ... She just blew right by. She came to play today. She wasn't messing around, and nobody in the NCAA can compete with that."
It wasn't as if the Ducks didn't run well. The foursome of Roesler, senior Michele Williams, and freshmen Chizoba Okodogbe and Phyllis Francis posted the fastest time in school history with a third-place finish of 3:28.18.
Faster, even, than last year's NCAA championship 4x400 relay team.
But it wasn't quite enough as Oregon accepted the second-place trophy for the third consecutive season.
"Those girls were phenomenal," said UO associate head coach Robert Johnson. "There was nothing more we could do in that event. We ran the fastest time ever at Oregon. What do you do?
"That 49-second leg of theirs is tough to handle. Hopefully, as we grow, maybe we'll have one of those."
Texas A&M finished on top with 49 points, followed by Oregon at 45, LSU with 43 1/2 and Oklahoma at 42. The Aggies also claimed their third straight men's title for an unprecedented double three-peat at the NCAA meet.
"It's disappointing," said UO director of track and field Vin Lananna. "I'm so glad to see (Beard) graduate. She's really good."
The Ducks, who came into the final day in first place with 33 points, needed a cushion going into the 4x400 relay, but they could muster only six points in the 1,500 and 3,000 steeplechase.
It was a particularly tough day for sophomore Jordan Hasay.
Although burdened with heavy legs after placing fourth in the 5,000 the previous night, she was second at the bell lap in the 1,500 and moved to the front on the backstretch.
But for the second straight race, when she reached for her kick, it wasn't there.
Villanova's Sheila Reid, the 5,000-meter champion, led a parade of runners past Hasay to complete the distance double with a winning time of 4:14.57.
UO sophomore Becca Friday roared past seven runners on the last lap to place fifth at 4:16.76. Hasay, the NCAA indoor mile and Pac-10 1,500 champion, was eighth at 4:17.67.
"I don't know what happened," said a devastated Hasay. "All week, I just haven't had that kick. I don't know if we didn't peak right, or I'm tired. ... Maybe it was the wrong decision to double.
"I'm most upset for the team because we needed some big points. I felt good during the race, but tactically, I didn't have it in that last part.
"I just didn't have that close."
As for Friday, she's still new to the 1,500 after qualifying for the NCAAs in the 800 last season.
"Somehow, I ended up at the back on the last lap, and I was like, 'Well, this is not where I should be,'" she said. "So, I tried to run all the way through to the finish.
"This feels like the beginning of knowing what to do in the 1,500. That's exciting. I brought my time down a lot this year (from 4:24.58 to 4:15.17), and it didn't feel forced."
In the steeplechase, both senior Claire Michel and freshman Lanie Thompson ran conservatively over the first half of the race.
Perhaps, too conservatively.
With 800 meters remaining, Michel and Thompson were languishing in 10th and 11th place, respectively.
To her credit, Michel rallied to pick up a point for the Ducks with an eighth-place finish at 10:10.27. Thompson, still in her first year in the steeple, was 13th at 10:28.21.
Colorado's Emma Coburn led five runners across the finish line under 10 minutes with a winning time of 9:41.14.
"I put myself too far back," Michel said. "That was my biggest mistake. I was overly conservative."
Added Thompson: "I just had nothing in the tank today."
In the end, Lananna said the monumental effort required to capture a third straight Pac-10 title in the desert one month ago, followed by the NCAA West Preliminary Round, might have caught up with the Ducks.
"The difficult thing is there were so many meets that we had to win that were so close this year," he said.
"When you double and triple up kids, sometimes it comes back to bite you. I think the distance kids, Jordan in particular, were dead from all that doubling. The Pac-10s was the killer. I think some of the kids were still feeling it."
The Ducks were also missing some of their top athletes. Two-time NCAA heptathlon champion Brianne Theisen, distance standout Alex Kosinski and sprinter Amber Purvis all missed the national meet with injuries.
And yet, the UO women's team collected a third straight NCAA runner-up trophy for their best stretch in program history.
Now, it's just a matter of finding a way to take that final step.
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|Title Annotation:||Track-Field Oregon; Oregon's chance to deny Texas A&M a third straight women's title ends when Jessica Beard takes the baton|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jun 12, 2011|
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