Oregon's Roesler takes aim at NCAA title

EUGENE — It was a Friday night in late June, and if Laura Roesler had been back home in Fargo, N.D., she probably would have just been hanging out with friends.

Instead, Roesler, just 16 and a few weeks removed from her sophomore year of high school, was at the starting line for Heat 1 of the women's 800-meter quarterfinals during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field.

Wearing a pink tank top she bought at Target earlier in the week and racing against a field of Nike-clad professionals and elite collegians, Roesler suddenly felt light-headed.

"I had no idea about anything," said Roesler, now a senior at Oregon and one of the top runners in the country heading into the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship meet at Hayward Field Wednesday through Saturday. "I was not ready for what it was going to be.

"I was very naive. I got on the track and saw the stands all around, and I thought I was going to faint on the line."

She didn't.

After getting boxed in early in the race, Roesler was able to swing outside and make a move, passing better known and more accomplished competitors to finish in fourth place and qualify for the semifinals as a crowd of nearly 21,000 roared its approval for the hard-charging teenager.

Her time of 2 minutes, 4.3 seconds, was seventh-fastest overall among the 16 semifinalists.

"That was kind of crazy," she told a group of reporters after the race, before politely excusing herself to vomit in a nearby garbage can.

Roesler has never lacked ability.

From the moment she joined her first track team in seventh grade, she has been the star attraction.

Roesler won 22 individual state titles for Fargo South High in distances ranging from 100 meters to cross country.

At Oregon, she has become a 15-time All-American — six outdoor, nine indoor — to break the school record of 14 held by Jordan Hasay. Individually, she has three Pac-12 outdoor titles in the 800 and one NCAA indoor title in the 800, as well as an NCAA outdoor and indoor title as a member of the 4x400 relay team.

She also has the top 800 time in the nation this season after clocking a 2:00.54 on April 19 at the Mount SAC Relays in what was her second orchestrated attempt this spring to break 2 minutes for the first time in her career.

"This year, trying to consistently be around 2 minutes, that just bodes well for me," Roesler said. "We know what I'm capable of and there's a breakthrough there."

Roesler, who set her personal best of 2:00.23 with a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Outdoor Championships last summer, has her eyes on a bigger prize this week.

With a season-best time two seconds faster than anyone else in the NCAA, Roesler is the favorite to win the 800 and claim her first individual outdoor title.

"Obviously going out with an outdoor win at Hayward Field, senior year, with people I've been training with everyday for four years, that would be a good way to go out," said Roesler, who will run her semifinal heat at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, with the final scheduled for 5:25 p.m. Friday.

"There's nobody even at the pro level that has her type of speed in the quarter," Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. "If it goes out slow, she's probably licking her chops."

In her semifinal heat of the 2008 Olympic Trials, Roesler said she was so overwhelmed by the moment that "I did not want to go to the line. It felt like they all know who I am and they were all looking at me. I finished last in my heat."

Roesler might have been born fast, but her confidence has been more of a slow build, if not her greatest challenge.

Despite being battle-tested in high school, when living up to ever-increasing expectations left her exhausted for days after meets, Roesler struggled with self doubt early in her Oregon career.

"(Johnson) would tell me, 'I can't want it more than you want it. I can't be more confident in you than you are in yourself,'" Roesler said. "But when I toed the line I raced scared and timid."

She finished third in the 800 at the Pac-12 Championships as a freshman and then was 10th at the NCAA meet.

"She definitely had some confidence-like issues as a freshman," Johnson said. "Some of those confidence issues go back to her being from North Dakota and winning everything.

"But when you come into college, everybody is talented. Sometimes when you take that loss, or not do well in practice, those start to be internalized and affects your confidence."

Roesler said things began to change as a sophomore in 2012, the year she won the first of her three-straight Pac-12 championships.

She finished fourth at the NCAA outdoor meet that year and then was second at both NCAA championship meets in 2013.

In March, Roesler said she made a "bold statement" by winning the NCAA indoor title with little resistance.

"Winning indoors was a big deal for me," Roesler said. "That was one thing I had left to do indoors. We'd won in the 4x400, we'd won as a team.

"It was fun, and a relief, all the same time."

Now comes her last chance at an NCAA outdoor title and once again all eyes will be on Roesler, just as they were at the Olympic Trials when the girl in pink grabbed the attention of the crowd.

"I still have that tank top," Roesler said. "If I ever run unsponsored, I'm whipping that baby out. You better believe it."


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