Updated: Jan 13
The women of Oregon have a history of podium finishes at the NCAA XC Championships. Women want to attend the University of Oregon for the tradition of a strong cross country / track and field program, the superb coaches, and the ultra-talented roster. In the last four years, the Ducks gone to the National Championships and have finished 3rd (2015), 1st (2016), 5th (2017), and 3rd (2018). What does 2019 hold for the women of Oregon?
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What is really going to hurt Oregon this fall is the graduation of four of their top seven from the 2018 season. Jessica Hull (3rd), Weronika Pyzik (12th), and Carmela Cardama Baez (31st) were All-Americans last season. Phily Bowden had an off-day in Wisconsin and did not score, but she could have helped the Ducks finish higher if she placed where her potential lied.
With only returning three women from the NCAA XC Championships, it will be difficult for the Ducks to recreate a high-scoring lineup that can contend for podium finishes. That said, this is Oregon were talking about. History says they'll be competitive regardless of who they return.
Luckily, the Ducks still have Isabelle Brauer who is back for her senior season after finishing 52nd at the 2018 NCAA XC Championship. Brauer was an All-American while competing for San Francisco before following Coach Helen Lehman-Winters to Oregon for the 2018 season. It is very possible that Brauer will not only be an All-American once again this fall, but will emerge as the veteran leader of this team despite only entering year two.
Susan Ejore is back for her final season with the Ducks and was an All-West region athlete in 2018. Ejore started the season out with two wins, one at the Oregon XC Preview and one at the Bill Dellinger Invitational. She also placed 6th at the PAC-12 Championships and 3rd at the NCAA West Regional. These results help reiterate that Ejore, a middle-distance runner, can also succeed on the grass and even act as a potential low-stick on the right day.
Amanda Gehrich is the second returner for the Ducks from their 3rd place team. Gehrich had a breakout season this winter and spring during the track seasons. She helped the Oregon women win the DMR at the Indoor National Championships and lowered her PR in the steeplechase down to 10:00. Gehrich’s track season should give her confidence on the cross country course as she attempts to improve upon her 108th place finish from last year's national meet.
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Admittedly, the loss of firepower will be tough to overcome. This year, more than any other, is flooded with programs that have high-octane low-sticks that are a match-up nightmare through five runners. However, despite the major loss of All-American talents, Oregon has the luxury of adding three very respectable athletes to their roster: Alessia Zarbo (France), Aneta Konieczek (a transfer from Western Colorado), and Moira O'Shea (a transfer from Penn State).
Zarbo is coming to Oregon with a 1500 PR of 4:28, a mile PR of 4:54, and 3000 PR of 9:25. In 2018, she competed at the Eurpoean U18 Championships and finished 3rd in the 3k. If you (roughly) add 40 seconds to Zarbo’s 3k PR, her time-adjusted 3200 would be around 10:05. There is no reason as to why Zarbo should not be in the top seven for Oregon this fall.
Konieczek, originally from Poland, will enter Eugene after a successful stint at D2 powerhouse Western Colorado. During her time there, she was a five-time All-American and placed 19th and 7th in her last two NCAA XC Championships. Konieczek will be a solid addition for the Ducks when you consider her low-stick potential and underrated consistency, especially when you remember that she is a 10:01 3k steeplechase runner, and has experience at the national level.
However, there are two questions we have in mind. 1) After not racing since cross country, what kind of shape is Konieczek in? and 2) How will Konieczek handle racing against higher-level DI competition?
Then we have Moria O'Shea, the Penn State transfer who brings additional depth and stability to a recently depleted lineup. She isn't expected to have the same scoring potency as a few others, but she could be a comforting piece to have somewhere in Oregon's varsity seven. With personal bests of 9:29 (3k) and 16:11 (5k), her potential becomes very intriguing.
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Somehow, even when Oregon graduates star talents, they find a way to reload. A podium finish may be a touch ambitious for the women of Oregon this season, especially with so many top-tier programs crowding the top 10. And while the roster may be brimming with talent, many of their top scorers haven't always been the most consistent. This team can be extremely good, but they all need to run well on the same day. They had enough firepower to compensate for any off-days that they had last year, but there will be less of a scoring cushion in 2019 if someone doesn't run up to par.
Regardless, none of that means that they won't come out fighting for every point. The Ducks will begin the season in the rebuilding stage, but there are plenty of athletes who have experience on the NCAA’s biggest stages who should comfortably lead this team to Terre Haute.
The last time the Ducks were in Terre Haute, they won the NCAA XC team title. Can this young team surprise the nation and find enough cohesion to get back on the podium? It won't be easy, but the last thing you want to do is to bet against one of the greatest powerhouse programs in the country.