Hasay builds on freshman campaign

The moniker "Track Town, USA" has long been bestowed on Eugene, Ore. The Oregon Ducks' men's track and field programs rose to prominence from the 1950s through the early 1970s under the guidance of legendary coach, innovator and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.

However, until last year, the Ducks' women's track program had won just one NCAA team title: outdoors in 1985. Thus, the 2010 NCAA indoor track championship won by the Oregon women meant quite a lot to the program.

And, individually, it was very special to then-freshman runner Jordan Hasay.

"In high school, I really wasn't part of a team because I went to a really small school, about 300 students, and we had, like, five girls out for track," Hasay said. "Being at Oregon and winning a team title was so much fun. It was a huge honor to me to contribute to that."

Hasay has been known in running circles since she was just a youngster, as she became a regional legend in her hometown of Arroyo Grande, Calif. Her prodigy status got a national boost at the 2008 Olympic trials in Eugene. Then 16, Hasay surprised even herself by making it all the way to the 1,500-meter final.

The teen with the long blonde hair captivated the crowd at Oregon's Hayward Field then, and it just made sense that Eugene would be her destination after finishing at Mission College Preparatory High.

"It's been kind of surreal," Hasay said. "Being at the trials was a great experience; it was the best track meet I've ever been to. It really just opened my eyes to the support this community brings to track and field.

"Now, running at Hayward Field with an Oregon uniform on is just the best thing. It's awesome being out there. It's a really great environment: Everyone is training for success, and there's not pressure on any one person because everyone else is so good."

At the NCAA indoor championships last year in Fayetteville, Ark., Oregon's women got victories in the 4x400-meter relay and in the pentathlon by Brianne Theisen. Then, in outdoor track, Theisen defended her NCAA heptathlon title as the Ducks were runners-up to Texas A&M for the team trophy.

Indoors last season, Hasay finished fourth in the mile at the NCAA meet and ran the anchor leg on the second-place distance-medley relay squad. Outdoors, she was third in the 1,500 at the NCAA championships. During the summer, she competed in the IAAF World Junior Championships, where she was fourth in the 1,500 and ninth in the 3,000.

This past fall in cross country, Hasay was Pac-10 and NCAA West Regional champion, then finished third in the NCAA meet.

"Being able to win a couple of big races was important to me," Hasay said of her cross country performance as a sophomore. "And I think I've progressed to where I proved I belong on the collegiate level, which gave me a lot of confidence going into track."

Hasay enjoys cross country -- she says it's hard to ask for any prettier place to train than the trails in and around Eugene, even when it rains -- but she was also very eager to get to January.

"I love track season," she said. "We come off cross country when it's just us distance runners working together, and now we get to have practice at the same time as the sprinters, jumpers and throwers. We really try to create a great team environment and cheer for each other."

Hasay broke Oregon's school record in the 3,000 meters last month at the UW Invitational; at that same meet, Theisen (now a senior) broke the collegiate scoring record in the penthalon with 4,507 points.

Oregon's women currently are ranked No. 1, and the team will split up to attend two major indoor events this weekend. Most of the Ducks -- including Hasay, who will compete in the mile Saturday -- will go to the Husky Invitational in Seattle. Some of the sprinters and jumpers -- including Jamesha Youngblood, a standout in the long jump and triple jump -- will go to the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark.

And as Hasay competes through the NCAA indoor and outdoor seasons, she'll also be thinking about international racing.

"I have been able to stay pretty health and injury-free, and I'm really thankful for that," she said. "I think this year is going to be a big year for me, in terms of preparing for 2012. I'll definitely need to have a lot of significant improvement if I want to try to be in position to make the Olympic team.

"This year is also important as far as deciding what my best event is, and if I'm good enough to be at that level. Last year, I was still on the junior level internationally. But this year for the USA team, I'll need to run with the big girls."

Weekend warriors

Gator power: Florida's men are the defending NCAA indoor champions and are ranked No. 1. The Gators will be sending athletes this weekend to the aforementioned meets in Arkansas and Washington, plus some to the Iowa State Classic.

Fayetteville, Ark., will be the site of the upcoming SEC indoor championships, so the Gators who go there this weekend will get a chance to race on the same track on which they'll compete again later this month. By then, everyone hopes the freakishly large amount of snow that recently hit Arkansas will have melted.

Wrestling showdown: Two of the Big Ten's top powers, No. 3 Penn State and No. 5 Minnesota, meet Sunday in Minneapolis. The dual meet will be aired on tape-delay at 9:30 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.

• Opening weekend: Softball teams around the country take the field for the first time this weekend. For more on what to watch, check out my colleague Graham Hays' preview of the season. ESPN.com will have scores for all Top 25 matchups.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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