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Ducks look for No. 5 runners amid all their depth.

Byline: Curtis Anderson The Register-Guard

The Oregon men's and women's cross country teams kick off the 2010 season today with a low-key appearance at the inaugural John Frank Invitational at Avery Park in Corvallis.

The Ducks come into the meet ranked tied for third nationally on the men's side and No. 5 for the women in preseason polls released earlier this week by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

"That's probably accurate for the men," said Vin Lananna, in his sixth season as UO director of track and field and cross country. "Our women will be better than fifth."

Today's meet begins at 5:30 p.m. with the women's 4,500-meter race. The men's four-mile race follows at 6:15 p.m.

The Duck men will be matched up against No. 8 Portland and Portland State, and the UO women will take on Oregon State, Portland and Portland State.

The tentative lineup for the UO men features Daniel Mercado, Chris Kwiatkowski, Ben DeJarnette, Mitch Hunt, Bryce Burgess, Tim Costin, Travis Stanford, Spencer Carter, Walker Augustyniak and Ken Scoggin.

The expected entries for the UO women will be Alex Kosinski, Taylor Wallace, Sarah Penney, Zoe Buckman, Becca Friday, Melanie Thompson and Bronwyn Crossman.

"This is just the beginning," Lananna said. "It's a low-key meet for us, but it's also an opportunity for those that we need to step in to do it right away."

Following the race, the UO runners will head to Sunriver for three weeks of training. The Ducks won't be back in action until Oct. 1, when they travel to South Bend, Ind., for the Notre Dame Invitational.

No collegiate cross country team has had more national success than the UO men over the past three seasons with back-to-back NCAA titles in 2007 and '08 followed by a narrow second-place finish to Oklahoma State last year.

If the Ducks want to continue that trend, they'll need to find a fifth runner.

Oregon returns a solid nucleus of four veterans: junior Luke Puskedra and seniors Matthew Centrowitz, Daniel Mercado and A.J. Acosta.

Puskedra led the Ducks with a 21st-place performance at last year's NCAA meet after taking fifth as the top freshman finisher in 2008.

Centrowitz and Mercado placed 27th and 31st, respectively, at the national meet last season.

Acosta had a breakout season on the track last spring, and the Ducks are hoping he can find the same success in cross country this fall.

In two previous trips to the NCAA, Acosta's training was interrupted by nagging injuries, and he was a non-factor, placing 106th (2009) and 146th (2007).

"We expect A.J. to have a big year," Lananna said. "He came out of high school with great cross country credentials. In fact, those were his best credentials. I know he's squarely focused on doing a great job, and when he does that, he usually does well."

The Ducks are also hoping that Burgess, a redshirt sophomore, is ready to step up and compete for the fifth spot, along with DeJarnette, a redshirt freshman, and four true freshmen: Brian Shrader, Parker Stinson, Cole Watson and Colby Alexander.

"We have four returners from our group that went to the NCAAs last year," Lananna said. "We'll be searching for a fifth man."

UO sophomore Elijah Greer, an 800-meter specialist who wants to run the mile this year, could be in the mix, but sophomore Mac Fleet is headed for a redshirt season after foot surgery last summer.

"Mac had a navicular bone issue in high school," Lananna said. "It was bugging him off and on ... and it seemed to get worse as the year went on, so we had our guys take a look at it, and they recommended fixing it once and for all.

"He should be running again soon, but unless he makes a miraculous recovery, he'll redshirt cross country this fall."

On the women's side, Oregon slipped to ninth at the NCAA meet, last year after back-to-back runner-up performances in 2007 and '08.

The Ducks should be able to challenge for a trophy at this year's NCAA meet especially with two talented frontrunners in sophomore Jordan Hasay and senior Alex Kosinski.

Hasay was Oregon's top NCAA finisher as a freshman (18th), and Kosinski was a two-time all-American (13th, 2007; eighth, 2008) before struggling to 81st last year.

Kosinski bounced back on the track, however, with PRs in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters.

"Jordan is a year older and wiser," Lananna said.

"She's ready to handle the rigors of a collegiate season, and we're excited about Alex and the jump she made last year."

Other returning NCAA veterans are Buckman, a senior, and Crossman, a sophomore, plus junior Claire Michel and sophomore Anne Kesselring.

There is plenty of depth with sophomores Wallace, Friday and Penney hoping to be in the mix, along with redshirt freshman Thompson - sidelined with a stress fracture in her back last year - and true freshmen Sarah Andrews, Megan Patrignelli, Laura Roesler and Phyllis Francis.

"We have more margin for error on the women's side," Lananna said. "If our top two get the job done, we could be very good. I'm very excited about this team. It's a good mixture of experience and new people coming in."

This year's Pac-10 meet will be at Seattle's Jefferson Golf Course on Oct. 30.

The Ducks will host the NCAA West Region Championships - the qualifying meet for the NCAAs - at Springfield Country Club on Nov. 13.
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Title Annotation:Cross Country; Both Oregon cross country teams are ranked in the top five in the nation and have plenty of firepower
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 3, 2010
Words:916
Previous Article:READY TO LEAD.
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