Eugene, Ore. -- There are a lot of new faces on Oregon track & field. Gone are the mainstays like Phily Bowden, Chaquinn Cook and Jessica Hull from the Duck women's team. For the men, the losses weren't as drastic, save for the sprinters group. Star sprinter Cravon Gillespie and depth pieces Julius Shellmire and Orwin Emilien all graduated out, leaving a new generation to take up the mantle. But at the UW Indoor Preview last weekend, Oregon track and field coach Robert Johnson wasn't looking for someone to pick up where they left off. He just wanted to assess what he had in a typical 'rustbuster' meet ahead of the real season.
"We're a young group," Johnson mentions. "A group of young individuals. We took 20 plus newcomers there to their first indoor meets and then that same amount of kids wearing that O for the first time on their chest for competing. Saw some good things, saw some things that like I said we can work on. So hopefully this week we're heading to Arkansas and an opportunity to see if we've worked on or fixed some of the issues there."
In a meet where most athletes are shaking off an offseason of atrophy, Johnson said a lot of his athletes were competing in off events but also thought it was a vital teaching moment for a group of freshmen in their first events. Junior sprinters Gaston Bouchereau and Brianna Duncan posted NCAA top 10 marks and as a team, the Ducks walked away with five total wins in the meet. But because of the nature of how Oregon decided to run some of their athletes this week, it made assessing the freshmen class as a whole challenging.
"A lot of those kids, which is traditional for us at this meet is to run off events," Johnson explains. "So a lot of those freshmen in the field events and a lot of those freshmen in some of the sprints, in some of the longer events ran off events, hence the 1000 [meter]. A lot of the jumpers ran just the 60 [meter]. So we'll find out a lot more about who we are coming out of this weekend."
Duncan, in particular, shined to no real surprise. Before transferring to Eugene from Chapel Hill, she held University of North Carolina program records in the 60, 100 and 200 meter dashes. She was also a two time All ACC performeer and 2018 NCAA East preliminary qualifier in the 100 and 200.
Last season, as a junior at Oregon, she set a personal record in the 100 meters, running in 11.23 seconds in the NCAA West preliminary.
"She's a competitor," Johnson says. "She has a skillset I think we're still working on and refining. I think we may end up kicking ourselves a little bit because we could've redshirted her last year but we needed her last year to do what we did both indoor and outdoors. I think she's scratching the surface on who she's gonna be."
"I think she's well on her way to do really good things this year. If she continues to learn and grow, because you gotta understand she just got here in the spring of last year. It's her first full fall, so I think good things to come."
Meanwhile, the building of Hayward Field continues to progress. While most of the outer portion of the stadium is in the final stages, there is still the concourse, training areas, and actual track surface to attend to. Johnson remains confident that it will be done by the time the Pac-12 Outdoor Track & Field Championships roll around but is moreso ready to just get back to the historic location.
"You guys don't understand how ready we are to do that," says Johnson. "A lot of those same kids that we have on the team came here to run at Hayward Field and they haven't been able to do that which is a little disappointing because we promised them something and we're not delivering on those promises. So to have it back up and online? Yes. Yes to all of that."