Stanford soars while Ducks sink in the mud.
SPRINGFIELD - Evidently, milers and mud don't mix too well.
That was the tale for the third-ranked Oregon men's cross country team on Saturday as the Ducks settled for third place at the NCAA West Regional championships at Springfield Country Club.
The wet, muddy 10,000-meter course made for slow times overall, and it worked against the middle distance runners who make up nearly half the UO roster.
"The reality is," UO coach Vin Lananna said. "when you have a lot of milers on the team, and they all have this vision of track, and then they come out here and the course is muddy, it's a recipe for disaster."
Well, it wasn't exactly a disaster for the Ducks.
But after a strong start, the UO runners decided to push the pace at the three-mile mark - which Lananna said was a mistake - and when the race finally took off over the final 1,000 meters, the Ducks were in no position to capitalize.
UO sophomore Luke Puskedra was the lone Duck to finish in the lead pack with a sixth-place performance in 30 minutes, 48.40 seconds.
"I think we were outmanned out there," he said. "We're fit enough, we just have to get into the right mind-set that we can do it. I think we're more than capable of turning it around, but it will take some work."
Junior Danny Mercado was 14th for the Ducks at 31:02.80, and twin brother Diego was 28th in 31:25.08.
Senior Kenny Klotz placed 32nd (31:32.37) and junior A.J. Acosta was 33rd (31:37.10). Freshman Mac Fleet (49th) and junior Matt Centrowitz (73rd) were never a factor beyond the midway point.
"I think we were asleep," Lananna said. "We're going to have to get a lot tougher, and we've got 10 days to turn it around. We're a very good team, but we need to get everyone going on the same day.
"We've been struggling with that all year. I think we're a trophy team (at NCAAs) but we certainly didn't run like it today."
With host Oregon, the two-time defending national champion, not racing up to par, No. 1 Stanford showed why it might be the team to beat at the NCAA Championships, to which the Ducks will await one of 13 at-large bids, in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23.
The Cardinal dominated with 27 points, sparked by a 1-2-3 finish from Chris Derrick, Elliott Heath and Justin Marpole-Bird. Derrick clocked a winning time of 30:38.84 - just ahead of Heath at 30:38.96 - to remain unbeaten this fall.
Stanford was so good that it didn't even need its No. 3 runner, Jake Riley, who was held out with back tightness.
"We knew it was just regionals, and while we're not afraid to run hard, we wanted to make sure we didn't get too crazy," Derrick said. "The big dance is still 10 days away ... we've been on a nice roll this year and we want to save some emotional energy for nationals."
Derrick said the mud-slicked terrain made it difficult to do too much during the race.
"The pace never really turned on," he said. "Luke moved it a bit when it really started to lag, but it was not fast at any point. I think the mud took its toll on people."
Seventh-ranked Portland used a strong overall finish to place second with 84 points.
Besides securing an automatic bid to the NCAA meet, the Pilots couldn't help but smile at beating Oregon on its home course, even though their No. 1 runner, sophomore Alfred Kipchumba, was running with a broken wrist suffered last Monday in a bicycle accident.
The Pilots were led by Tommy Betterbed's fifth-place performance in 30:42.91, followed by two freshmen, Joash Osoro (eighth) and Trevor Dunbar (12th), and Kipchumba in 22nd.
"(Oregon) has kind of been beating up on us lately, so it's nice to come down here and stick it to them a little bit," Betterbed said. "We had a good race today, but our goal is next week (at NCAAs). We haven't shown all of our cards yet."