The lights are back on at Hayward Field, but Cole Hocker steals the spotlight
There weren’t any extra bells or whistles for the grand opening of Hayward Field Friday night, no pageantry or fireworks for the debut of Oregon’s new $200 million facility.
But there was track and field, and after nearly three years of no home meets, that was more than enough.
“This has been a long time coming for us here and our program,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson said after Day 1 of the multi-team Hayward Premiere, the Ducks’ first meet since June of 2018. “It’s been a surreal moment today. … Thankful, blessed, happy. I woke up this morning excited and giddy and couldn’t wait to shoot off the gun.”
Oregon picked up four wins and had several impressive performances, though none stood out more than Cole Hocker’s late surge to win the men’s 1,500-meter Invitational in the first home meet of his Oregon career.
The sophomore from Indiana, who captivated the running community with his national titles in the mile and 3,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championship meet in March, looked sharp as ever Friday, winning in 3 minutes, 38.99 seconds.
“It was definitely different and even though it wasn’t a full stadium, there was something different about the energy especially with other teams being in there and in the mix,” Hocker said. “They definitely put on a good race, too. It was fun.”
It was also close, as Hocker went into the home straight with challengers right on his heels. But one last burst of speed gave him all the separation he’d need to get the win.
“Yeah I’m really happy with (the race),” he said. “I just went in with one goal to win and I executed that. I’m really happy about it because of where we are in training and completely training through this race and not really prepping specifically for this. I’m happy with the result.”
Talem Franco of BYU was second in 3:39.79 and Iowa State’s Festus Lagat was third in 3:39.93. Oregon’s Reed Brown was fifth in 3:40.90.
Cooper Teare was entered in the race but didn’t run. The Oregon senior, who set the collegiate record in the indoor mile in February, did pace the men’s 10,000 Invitational through the first 4K. He’s also entered in the 800 Saturday.
A sparse crowd of family and close Oregon associates were sprinkled throughout the stadium, as were members of all the participating teams.
It wasn’t loud, but for an opening night in the era of COVID-19 restrictions, it was still special.
“The feeling was unreal,” said Oregon senior hammer thrower Austin Tharp, a Sheldon High graduate who has a childhood worth of memories competing at the previous Hayward Field. “Just walking in with all the officials and other competitors, it felt like Hayward Magic was back. I’m from Eugene and my last home meet was the Oregon Twilight in 2018 so it was really nice to have family watching me compete at Hayward again for the first time in a few years.”
Tharp finished third Friday night, throwing a PR 195-feet.
For the trivia books, senior distance runner Jack Yearian was the Ducks’ first winner in the new stadium, as he ran a 40-second PR with a time of 14:1122 in the men’s open 5,000 race.
Tori Sloan was Oregon’s first field event winner, as the junior set a big PR with a mark of 19-5 1/4. Her previous best was 17-11 1/2.
Aneta Konieczek made her long-awaited outdoor debut for the Ducks with a second-place finish in the women’s steeplechase in a PR 9:59.42, making her the third-fastest performer in Oregon history and only the fourth Duck to run under 10 minutes.
“It was amazing to be out there today and have a pretty good opener,” Konieczek said. “I was just really excited, not only because it’s been awhile but also, it’s our track and I’d never raced at Hayward (Field) before. You could hear everyone and even with the smaller crowd, the magic was there.”
Konieczek transferred to Oregon in 2019 from Division II Western State in Colorado where she was a steeplechase all-American with a 10:01.02 PR. During the recently completed indoor season, Konieczek placed seventh in the mile at NCAA championship meet.
New Mexico senior Charlotte Prouse was the winner in a collegiate-leading 9:54.65. The two-time NCAA runner-up took the lead from Konieczek with two laps to go and slowly separated from the Oregon redshirt junior.
“After indoor nationals, there was some down time and I hadn’t really done any hurdle work coming into today but I thought everything felt pretty good," Konieczek said. "I didn’t really know what to expect especially in my first (steeplechase) race in three year but it helped to have Charlotte Prouse in the race so we could work together.”
Oregon’s Matt Wisner, a senior transfer from Duke, set a six-second PR of 3:42.95 in his victory in the men’s open 1,500.
Carmela Cardama Baez, the 2019 NCAA outdoor runner-up, finished third in women’s 10,000 Invitational in 32:57.01, nearly topping her PR of 32:55.50. Boise State’s Clare O’Brien won in 32:43.70, and Weber State’s Lexie Thompson was second in 32:49.62.
Oregon State’s Lindsay McShane and Sydney Guthrie-Baker went 1-2 in the women’s hammer. McShane won with a throw of 208-03 and Guthrie-Baker threw 195-07.
posted Sunday April 4th