When you walk into Historic Hayward Field for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, you are greeted by a display to the champions from last year’s meet. There are two big boards up with winners’ names and times to go along with flags honoring returning champions who are looking to defend their titles.
One name that is missing from the group is Laura Roesler, a surprising fact since there are very few athletes more decorated in Oregon track and field history than she is.
The senior from Fargo, North Dakota, has a long list of accomplishments from her time with the Ducks. She is the most decorated Track and Field All-American from Oregon with 15 (six outdoor, nine indoor), is the three-time defending Pac-12 Champion in the 800 and is now a two-time NCAA Champion (2011-12 Outdoor 4×400 NCAA champion, 2013-14 Indoor 800 champion).
“Can’t say enough about her,” Oregon head coach Robert Johnson said. “She is just phenomenal.”
In addition to her accomplishments as an athlete, Roesler has been just as successful off the track. This season she was named the Pac-12 women’s track and field Scholar Athlete of the Year.
And yet despite her accolades, Roesler has never been able to put it all together at the Outdoor Championships on an individual level.
“Since Indoors, it has been weighing on me more and more,” Roesler said. “After Wednesday I had to stay off my phone and the computer because I didn’t need any added stress.”
Last year she came close, finishing second behind Natoya Goule of Louisiana State. Goule crossed the line in 2:00.06, just ahead of Roesler (2:00.98). At the time, Roesler’s finish was a personal record.
This year marked Roesler’s final chance to achieve victory. She faced a tough field, including Georgia senior Megan Malasarte and a pair of sophomores: Claudia Saunders of Stanford and Alexis Panisse of Tennessee.
“She was built for this,” Johnson said of Roesler. “Whether they go slow or fast, it doesn’t matter.”
Roesler was running in lane four and at the gun, she got out to a comfortable start, settling into the middle of the pack.
“I was pretty nervous but once the gun went off I just had to run within myself,” Roesler said. “I just needed to want it.”
As the runners rounded into their second lap, Roesler decided to work her way towards the front. Because she had been boxed in, she had to fight to get to the outside. It was at this moment that disaster almost struck, as she almost fell off the track after being tripped up.
“I got pretty competitive after that,” Roesler said. “I was like, ‘all right, play time is over’.”
Recovering nicely, Roesler decided to take off, sprinting away from the field and rounding the Bowerman curve by herself. As she ran toward the finish line the roar of Hayward followed her.
“The crowd was so loud that I couldn’t decide if it was for me or if someone else coming up behind me,” Roesler said. “All I had to do was keep my form and I was going to get across that finish line first.”
Roesler was able to finish first, winning the race with a final time of 2:01.22. As she turned to celebrate with the crowd, she noticed her family.
“They were wearing the Oregon Volt shirts, so they weren’t hard to miss,” Roesler said. “That was really special, I got to see my whole clan there. And not only them but also the other 10,000 people in the stands. I felt right at home.”
Roesler’s weekend isn’t over as she still has one last event to compete in as a Duck. She will be suiting up to run alongside her teammates in the women’s 4×400.
“I have one more race,” Roesler said. “So this thing isn’t over yet.”
Regardless of how the relay ends up, next year when fans walk past the entrance of Hayward they will see Roesler’s name up with the best of them, honoring her final accomplishment as a Duck.
Follow Chris Keizur on Twitter @chriskeizur