STANFORD, Calif. — Oregon went into the final round of the Pac-12 Track & Field Championships knowing it would spend the day chasing USC’s sprinters.
The Ducks never could catch them.
Oregon’s nine-year winning streak at the conference meet was left in the dust on Sunday, as the Trojans ran away with the team title at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field.
The final was USC 170 to 154 for the second-place Ducks, who were in striking distance with four events to go before it all fell apart.
“It’s probably a little too close and a little too fresh for us to fully appreciate and dissect the ins and outs,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. “But I know it’s something we’ll definitely use and learn from all experiences both good and bad.”
The Ducks started the day with 22 points and trailed the Trojans by that same amount.
There was little doubt Oregon and USC were going to duke it out in the 100, 200, 400, 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles as the Trojans had 19 qualifiers in those events and the Ducks had 16. In fact, the nine finalists in the 100 and 200 were all from Oregon and USC.
As it turned out, the Ducks were no match.
The Trojans won four of those events — including a meet record and world-leading 49.99-second victory by Kendall Ellis in the 400 — finished second in three and scored a whopping 111 points overall. Tack on wins in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays and USC’s sprinters scored 131 points on the day.
Oregon, led by Makenzie Dunmore’s win in the 200 and second-place finish in the 400, scored 62 points in the sprints and hurdles and 16 in the relays with a pair of runner-up finishes.
“My hats off to (USC coach) Caryl (Smith Gilbert) and her staff and preparing her girls and going out and executing,” Johnson said.
The Ducks still put up a fight for much of the meet.
They scored 21 points in the 1,500 with a 1-4-5-7 finish led by Jessica Hull’s convincing victory.
The sophomore finished in 4:21.65, and was motivated by an early morning text from her father in Australia.
“I think he knew that I was nervous and he was like, ‘This is what you’ve worked for. Make sure it stays enjoyable, don’t change the way you go about this, stay true to you,’” Hull said.
He also told her to embrace the pressure, which she was feeling as she came down the homestretch and heard the home crowd cheering for Stanford’s Christina Aragon, who finished second in 4:23.41.
“I knew she would be coming hard,” Hull said. “I was telling myself to work hard through the line, don’t give up.”
Lilli Burdon also finished fourth for the Ducks, Katie Rainsberger was fifth and Amanda Gehrich was seventh.
Not long after, Sabrina Southerland became the Ducks’ seventh straight champion in the 800, grabbing the lead from Stanford’s Olivia Baker with 150-meters to go for the win in 2:02.18.
Oregon’s Susan Ejore was fourth in the race for five more points, and at the same time, Chaquinn Cook wrapped up a second-place finish in the triple jump with a mark of 43 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
Just like that, the Ducks had closed the gap on the Trojans, whose lead was 125-116 with four events to go.
But the Trojans outscored the Ducks 12-6 in the 400 hurdles and added 23 points in the 200 with a 2-3-4-5 finish. Despite Dunmore’s victory in the 200 in a personal-record 22.37, Oregon found itself in a 22-point hole (160-138) heading into the 5,000.
Though they had six entries to none for USC, the Ducks scored just eight points as Burdon finished fifth, Hull was sixth and Samantha Nadel was eighth, rendering the 4x400 finale all but meaningless.
“Everyone on this team knew that they had a job to do,” Nadel said. “We all had that in the back of our minds that we had to go out there and put some points on the board. We were trying to win.”