Updated: Dec 17, 2018
In 2015, Oregon had one of the most dominant collegiate distance squads in the NCAA. In fact, one would argue that the entire collection of their distance group was one of the best ever witnessed. The combination of Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins was lethal. Unstoppable. Simply incapable of being defeated. They are arguably the best 1-2 punch that the NCAA has ever seen.
Throughout that time, there were only two individuals who could even come close to competing with this talented duo. One of those individuals was Arkansas standout Kemoy Campbell, the Jamaican who had rivaled Cheserek for two years, desperately attempting to triumph over the King.
He never succeeded.
The other individual was none other than Oregon's very own Will Geoghegan. After finishing his undergraduate work at Dartmouth, the superstar took his talents to Eugene and upped his fitness to a level that would have put his fellow Ivy League colleagues to shame.
At the end of the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Cheserek and Jenkins each took gold and silver in the 5000 and 10,000 meters, respectively. In that same 5000 meters race, Will Geoghegan finished 4th with a time of 13:49.35, only .12 seconds behind Kemoy Campbell.
And as if that wasn't enough, Jake Leingang, now a senior who transferred to North Dakota State, also qualified for NCAA's at 5000 meters. He finished 12th in that 2015 Championship race.
In just that one distance alone, Oregon could be seen as the clear distance powerhouse. They weren't just respected, they were feared. Not because of their achievements in one event, but because of what they could do elsewhere...
In the 1500, we saw Blake Haney, Daniel Winn, and Johnny Gregorek all qualify for the finals at NCAA's where Haney secured a bronze medal to complement his silver medal from the indoor track season. The Ducks also had a handful of top-tier talent that didn't qualify for NCAA's that year. Niki Franzmair was Oregon's premier half-mile stud who boasted a 1:48 PR while Colby Alexander found his groove in the summer following the completion of eligibility with a lifetime best of 3:37 in the 1500. Prior to that, he had earned times of 1:49 and 3:42.
Jeramy Elkaim was another Oregon stud who went unnoticed in the vast array of superstardom and supremacy. By the time he was finished with the Ducks, Elkaim owned PR's of 3:42, 3:59, 7:48, and 13:39. He may be one of the most under-appreciated Ducks in recent history.
And Tanguy Pepiot? You may remember him as the steeplechaser who became famous on ESPN's SportsCenter for cheering in the final straightaway (with the lead) before he crossed the finish, unaware of a hard-charging Washington athlete who would eventually catch, and embarrass, Pepiot at the line.
Still, Pepiot was one of the stronger steeplechasers in the NCAA with a personal best of 8:42 (and 7:59 in the 3k). He was just another weapon in Oregon's limitless arsenal known as a roster.
A team like that was special and it needs to be appreciated. The combination of dominance, poise, experience, and depth is extremely difficult to replicate. It's not everyday that you see a team quite like that. The only other team in recent history that comes to mind may be Stanford's 2003-2004 squad. Still, having more than one team like that in a decade is rare.
Yet, if there was ever a time where Oregon could potentially reach that peak of dominance once again, it might be right now.
The depth they have been able to accumulate since 2015 is now paying dividends and giving the Ducks just as many options as they had three years ago. Not only that, but this group is incredibly young. Just last year, we saw Austin Tamagno and Mick Stanovsek throw down huge times of 3:41 and 3:43, respectively. For freshmen, those times were a big deal. Meanwhile, Tanner Anderson, who was running as a redshirt freshman last spring, qualified for NCAA's in the 10k. He also finished in the dreaded (but impressive) 41st place at NCAA's this past cross country season. One spot off from All-American.
In short, the frosh and soph members of this team have been spectacular. Maybe that is why Oregon is able to succeed at the level that they do. They don't take a year to focus solely on developing their young recruits. Coach Powell has them ready to have an immediate impact by the time they are racing in the spring (at the latest). If you need any more evidence of that, just look at what Cooper Teare and Reed Brown have been able to do with just one season of cross country under their belts. In fact, with Matthew Maton out of commission in the fall, Teare took this team by the reins and led them through an up and down cross country season which ended with the Ducks finishing 6th in the team standings and Teare placing 44th overall.
And as for Reed Brown, that sub 4 minute fitness from high school isn't going anywhere after seeing his result from this past weekend. In a crowded field of top-tier athletes, Brown was able to run a blistering 2:21 1k at the UW Preview. He finished less than a second behind World Championship qualifier Drew Windle.
It's tough not to get excited about the youth because you can't help but wonder what they'll run when they're older. Take Sam Prakel for example. Many may not know this, but the current redshirt senior threw down a monster 3:55 mile this past summer. Even with guys like Josh Kerr and Sean McGorty returning to the track, could he be a sleeper pick to win it all this winter? His time says he could...
If we’re going to be talking about mile contenders on the national stage, we can’t forget about the guy who was once favored to win it all during the 2016 winter track season: Blake Haney. As a sophomore, Haney would finish 2nd at NCAA’s to Henry Wynne. Unfortunately, old-fashioned bad luck and rumors of injuries led to a disappointing 2016 and a poor 2017 indoor season.
Luckily, Haney seems to be back at the top of his game after running 3:41 last spring and could be ready to become one of the best tactical milers in the NCAA once again.
As if the Oregon men couldn’t get any deeper in the 1500/mile, they also added British standout James West to their roster. With PR’s of 1:48, 3:39, and 7:58, his range becomes increasingly useful for scoring and relay purposes.
But West is just one of the elite recruits that the Ducks have secured for next year. Brodey Hasty is arguably the best distance runner in high school and has a real chance of dipping under 4 minutes this year. Josh Hoey is another huge addition. Not just because he boasts 1:49 speed, but because he brings his older brother Jaxson (a transfer from Penn State) with him. After a 2:27 1k this past weekend, the move to Eugene seems to be already benefitting the elder Hoey.
Yet, this puzzle isn't complete without their final piece: Matthew Maton.
As Cheserek prepared to depart from the NCAA, the nation looked to Maton to take the role as Oregon's next leader. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen that from Maton mainly because of the uncertainty surrounding his health. He hasn't raced since the end of indoor NCAA's last year where he was 9th in the mile and last in the 3000 meters. Will this be the season where Maton returns and reestablishes himself as one of the top distance runners coming out of the west? There is still no sign of him...
Of course, the hypothetical success that many of us are envisioning will not be easy for the Ducks. Haney still needs to show that he is fully back from his sub-par performances in 2016. James West and Jaxson Hoey need to prove that they can compete at the collegiate level throughout this winter season. The young guys need to improve to the level that is expected of them. Prakel needs to replicate the fitness we saw from him this past summer. And Maton? Quite simply, he needs to race.
Still, this team can't be undermined. The amount of talent on a single roster is uncanny. Over the next two years, if this team makes the proper adjustments and continues to progress and develop like we're expecting them to, they could be just as deep and just as strong as the legendary team that came through Eugene in 2015. Will they have the same pure superiority of Cheserek and Jenkins to lead the way? No, maybe not, but with so many options to choose from and plenty of time to allow these individuals to grow, the Ducks could very easily return to being one of the most feared programs in the NCAA.
Some may have thought that the completion of Cheserek's eligibility was the end of an era for the Ducks. On the contrary, it may be the exact opposite.
And who knows?
Maybe Life After Cheserek will be the most prosperous few years that the Oregon Ducks have ever seen...