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UO men set for NCAA indoors

(The Register-Guard) — It's been four years since the Oregon men last won an NCAA Indoor track and field title, and though their odds remain long at breaking that streak this year, their confidence going into the national meet is high.

The sixth-ranked Ducks have nine individual qualifiers and both relay teams with them in Albuquerque, N.M., this Friday and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Among them is freshman distance sensation Edward Cheserek, who is entered in both the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races, and school-record holders Mac Fleet in the mile and 2013 NCAA runner-up Mike Berry in the 400.

"Of course we got the depth and talent, and it's really exciting to go there and know we have a shot to win nationals," said Dakotah Keys, who is entered in the heptathlon. "It'll be really exciting."

The Ducks will be loaded in Saturday's 3,000 final. Cheserek is ranked second in the NCAA at that distance, junior Parker Stinson is sixth and senior Trevor Dunbar is 15th.

Cheserek and Stinson are also entered in Friday's 5,000 final. Cheserek is ranked third in that event, and Stinson is 11th.

Both races will give Cheserek his first chance to compete against the most dominant collegiate distance runner the past two years in Lawi Lalang.

The senior for No. 5 Arizona is expected to attempt an unprecedented indoor distance triple. He's entered in the mile, 3,000 and 5,000.

Lalang won NCAA titles in the mile and 3,000 last season (as well as 5,000 and 10,000 outdoors), and the 3,000 and 5,000 in 2012.

Cheserek won the NCAA cross country title last fall.

"That's a huge feat to do that in a two-day time span," Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. "Usually when you do things like that they're outdoors when you're doing it over four days, so what he's doing is definitely historic in nature.

"He's a super, super talent, probably the superior talent in the field. Having said that, I like the Ducks. I like what coach (Andy) Powell has done with our middle distance and distance group."

It remains to be seen what type of effect racing at altitude (Albuquerque sits at more than 5,300 feet) will have on the Ducks, who train at sea level, but Stinson didn't seem concerned.

"I don't think it feels that much different when you race just as long as you're careful in the first 1,000," he said.

"If you don't go out too hard or stupidly slow, I think you'll find it won't affect you as much as you think. But it's a real thing if you try to go out normal."

The Oregon men tied for sixth at the NCAA Indoors last season after bringing the same number of individual qualifiers. But this year, with the advantage of having both relay teams, the Ducks might have enough to get them their first trophy since finishing tied for second place in 2010.

The relay pool for the Ducks 11th-ranked distance medley relay team is Brett Johnson, Arthur Delaney, Russell Hornsby, Trevor Dunbar, Boru Guyota and Sam Prakel.

The pool for the 10th-ranked 4x400 team includes Berry, Delaney and Jack Galpin -- three members of the group that finished third at the NCAA Outdoor meet in 2013 -- as well as Marcus Chambers and Hornsby.

"You see a lot more team unity with the men's team," Keys said. "It's always been strong with the women, but this year with the men, it just feels like we're a big team now. I think we can carry that over to the meet."

Keys will get the meet started for the Ducks at 9 a.m. Friday with the 60 -- the first of four opening-day heptathlon events.

The two-time Pac-12 decathlon champion finished ninth last season at the NCAA Indoor meet with a personal-best score of 5,757 points.

Keys said he'll need a much better effort this weekend to help his team get points.

"I'll definitely have to PR to have a good shot at placing, and to place as high as I want," Keys said. "I think that's on the table, I think the way practice has been going this whole year, my confidence is higher."

Rounding out the Ducks field is Johnathan Cabral in the 60 hurdles. The junior finished sixth in that event last season with a then-PR of 7.76. He lowered his time to 7.68 -- second all-time at Oregon -- earlier this season and is ranked fifth heading into Friday's semifinal heat.


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