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Healthy Skipper vaults back to top of NCAA.

Byline: From Register-Guard and news service reports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Tommy Skipper is back on top.

After struggling through injury problems during the outdoor track and field season last spring, the Oregon junior successfully defended his NCAA Indoor championship with a pole vault clearance of 18 feet, 6 1/2 inches Friday.

Skipper's title - combined with top-five finishes by two other Ducks - helped propel Oregon into a tie for second place after the first day of the two-day meet.

Arkansas leads the men's race with 24 points, followed by the Ducks and Florida State with 20.

`This is my third time to compete here but honestly probably the most nervous one,' Skipper said. `It's been a gradual process of building my confidence back after last year's injury outdoors, so I have to give credit to God, my family, my coaches and teammates, not to mention the trainers and massage therapists who have made the recovery possible.'

Oregon also collected points when senior Eric Mitchum took third place in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 7.68 seconds. Tennessee's Aries Merritt won the event in 7.51 seconds.

`I was really hoping to win, but I didn't have the start I wanted,' Mitchum said. `This was my last NCAA indoor race, so I gave it my all. I still have another chance to help the team outdoors.'

Freshman Galen Rupp ran his first NCAA indoor race, taking fifth place in the 5,000 meters (13.56.41), improving upon his 10th seed entering the race.

`We had a host of great performances today,' Oregon director of track and field Vin Lananna said. `Tommy and Galen have really surged at the most important time of the year, and Eric's performance was outstanding in an event that is always one of the deepest fields in the world.'

In other men's action, sophomore Michael McGrath finished 16th in the prelims of the mile (4:06.47).

On the women's side, the Duck distance medley relay added an all-America honor (seventh, 11:18.89) in Oregon's first-ever appearance in the indoor championship event. Rebekah Noble won her 800 preliminary (2:05.72), and Amber McGown finished fifth in her section (4:41.48) and eighth overall in the 17-woman mile field.

Texas leads the women's race with 25 points, followed by North Carolina with 20 and USC with 19.

Noble and McGown will compete in their respective finals today, and Rupp will return to compete in the 5,000 meters.

CAPTION(S):

Tommy Skipper races down the runway during Friday's competition at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Skipper successfully defended his 2005 championship with a vault of 18 feet, 6 1/2 inches.
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Title Annotation:Sports; The junior pole vaulter wins the NCAA Indoor title to lift Oregon into a tie for second place after the meet's first day
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 11, 2006
Words:447
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