I had the opportunity to watch the Pac-10 championships last night as they are now being shown on Fox Sports (check your local listings). Over the next week they will also be televising the Big12, Big10 and SEC championships. So I thought I would watch them all and give my 2 cents as to how these major conferences are shaping up as they head into the Regional and NCAA Championships.
On the women’s side to paraphrase an old saying, if it crossed the line first it must’ve been a Duck. As in the Oregon Ducks, because that’s how dominating this team was. The Oregon women have put together one of the most complete, dominating squads I’ve seen at any level. We know they have distance runners – that’s what Oregon is known for. But now they have sprinters, relays, and field event performers. Result? They piled up 215 points – over 100 points more than runner up Arizona State (109). That’s domination.
Can they do it on the big stage? Not to the tune of 200 points, but right now I see them as a very strong favorite to win the title at home. Their distance core of Zoe Buckman, Jordan Hasay, Nicole Blood, Alex Kosinski, Anne Kesselring, and Mattie Bridgmon should pile up big points. But also look for sprinters Amber Purvis and Keshia Baker to score points – Baker could win the 400 – along with both relay squads. Throw in heptathlete Brianne Thiessen and you have a potential juggernaut heading into Nationals. They will score the bulk of any Pac-10 points scored at nationals.
If you’re looking for a non Duck to score big at nationals it would have to be Washington’s Katie Follett in the 1500. She left a bit too much early here and just missed out on the Pac-10 title, but I don’t expect her to leave so much to make up again.
On the men’s side it looks like the Pac-10 is back as a force on the collegiate scene. Yes there are the Oregon men. Though they are not as dominant as their female counterparts – but I’m not sure anyone is. The Ducks also won the men’s title though in a much closer battle with resurging USC – 168.5 to 156. These Ducks are all about middle and long distance running and Superman Ashton Eaton. They depend on a core of Matt Centrowitz, Mac Fleet, A.J. Acosta, and Elijah Greer. But the heart and soul of this team – and their chances of winning nationals – are Andrew Wheating and Ashton Eaton. Wheating won the 800 here, but is also their best 1500 man. To have a shot at the big one he may have to double – we will find out when they run regionals in a week – as he has the potential to win both. Eaton was all over the place. He won the decathlon – run the week before – but got big points in the 100 (2nd), high hurdles (1st), and long jump (1st). Eaton is clearly the best decathlete in college today, and is looking like a big scorer in the high hurdles as well. The Ducks title hopes rest on the broad shoulders of their two leaders.
The other strong team from this conference heading into nationals is USC. Once a national power, the Trojans have been a bit on the down side for a while now. A school once known for it’s strong sprint teams is rebounding on the strength of sprinter Ahmad Rashad and quarter miler Joey Hughes. Between them they won all three sprint events, took 2nd in the 4x1 and won the 4x4. Rashad looks capable of scoring high again in the 100 (was 2nd last year) and Hughes looks like big points in the 400. They also have the feel good story of the year in quarter miler Bryshon Nellum. The do all everything high school star of 2008, the young man was shot in the leg in a drive by shooting before he could get his collegiate career off the ground. Showing what perseverance, hard work and determination can do he scored third here in 45.94 and ran lead off on the winning 4x4. IN addition to the points he added to the USC cause, he is clearly an inspiration to his teammates who performed here as I’ve not seen a USC perform in a while.
Speaking of quarter milers, Arizona State 400 man Donald Sanford looks like he too could be a factor in Eugene. And everyone needs to keep an eye on the UCLA 4x1 squad. There’s not a major name on the squad, yet they are the smoothest passing unit I’ve seen all year. Which is why they won the Pac-10 title with a solid 39.66 in less than ideal conditions. The SEC and Big 12 squads have gone faster, but these kids move that stick and if anyone else falters they will be there to pick up the pieces.
The Pac-10 is also the home of Ryan Whiting of Arizona State. And while his team may not be in the title hunt, Whiting could possibly pull off a double of his own. He’s clearly the nations best shot putter – a solid 70 foot thrower. But he’s also improving in the discus as he set his season’s best in winning here over #2 ranked Aaron Dan of USC – another strong scorer for the Trojans. Both young men should do well in Eugene.
Last, but not least, I want to mention 400 hurdler Jeshua Anderson. He won his third Pac-10 title, leads the nation in this event, and could be headed for his third straight 400 meter hurdle title. Anderson is just stronger than the competition at this level.
Overall, I expect the Pac-10 to make a lot of noise in Eugene.