Pac-12 cross-country championships

When: Friday, 11 a.m.

Where: Springfield Golf Club

TV: Live on Pac-12 Network

Website: cross-country/championships

When Travis Neuman was a middle-schooler in Bend he practiced with the Summit High School cross-country squad and attended team camps with his two older brothers.

He wanted to do whatever his brothers were doing and, well, they were running — a lot.

“I really started running because of my brothers,” says Neuman, now a senior on the Oregon cross-country and track and field teams. “They had an awesome coach in Dave Clark. He let me come to practices and team camps when I was in elementary and middle school. That just made it fun. I had a great time with all the high school-aged kids when I was in elementary school and middle school.”

Neuman followed in the footsteps of his older brothers Kenyon and Gatlin to emerge as a standout runner for Summit, and he went on to win Class 5A individual cross-country state championships in 2011 and 2012.

Neuman, 23, admits his career for the Ducks has had its ups and downs, but he hopes to finish it strong, starting with Friday’s Pac-12 cross-country championships at Springfield Golf Club, just minutes from the UO campus in Eugene.

The Oregon men are ranked eighth in NCAA Division I cross-country, and Neuman’s goal is to finish in the top 40 individually in the NCAA championship to earn All-America honors. He was 46th two years ago at nationals.

This season, Neuman finished 34th (23 minutes, 46.23 seconds for 8,000 meters) at the Pre-Nationals Invitational on Oct. 14 in Louisville, Kentucky, and 23rd (24:07.8) at the Bill Dellinger Invitational last month on the same Springfield course that is hosting the conference championships this week.

“The Pac-12 is super competitive in cross-country,” Neuman says. “Having it at home heightens it to a new level. You want to do well for fans. We know that course well, and we should have an advantage having everybody come to us. We’re all more confident having it at home.”

Neuman — who plans to focus on the 10,000 and 5,000 next winter and spring in track — adds that the team is much closer and more in sync than in past years, making it easier for him in his final season at Oregon.

“It’s very fun to be a part of,” he says. “I certainly want to make my last year my best year. Having a great team around me always helps. I’m in better shape and I’ve been able to focus more on running.”

Oregon junior Matthew Maton is also a former state champion from Summit, and the two runners from Bend have remained close in ­Eugene, often training together on long runs along popular routes such as Pre’s Trail or the Amazon Trail. (Maton, who was 29th in the NCAA championships last year, has been nursing an injury this cross-country season and has yet to race, and as of Tuesday the team had yet to confirm whether he would compete in the Pac-12 Championships.)

“It’s been awesome since he’s been here,” Neuman says of Maton, who raced in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2016. “He’s a great guy. It’s been super fun. He’s obviously super talented. Watching what he can do in workouts and races has been cool. Not many people get an opportunity to run with a high school teammate in college. It’s been a great experience.”

Neuman says that he and Maton are like-minded in their training methods, going pretty hard on most days and rarely shying away from high mileage. Oregon men’s distance coach Andy Powell often pairs them together in practice and training. Neuman says he is running between 85 and 90 miles a week.

Like most distance runners, both Maton and Neuman have dealt with their share of injuries.

Neuman struggled with injuries and illness in the 2011 and 2012 track seasons at Summit, then decided to skip his senior year of high school track in 2013 to concentrate on his health and his future distance career at Oregon. He trained independently with Tate Metcalf, a former track coach at Bend’s Mountain View High who is known for grooming Ashton Eaton in the decathlon — Eaton would go on to win two Olympic gold medals.

With Metcalf, Neuman was able to focus on increased mileage with fewer intense track workouts.

“Working with him was a huge opportunity, and we’ve had a great relationship ever since that year,” Neuman says of Metcalf. “He kind of instilled in me that running has got to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. His whole base of knowledge, from coaching Ashton and seeing him compete at every single level … I really don’t have any regrets doing that my senior year. It made the transition very smooth, trainingwise.”

Metcalf insists that skipping a senior track season is not a good choice for the majority of high school athletes, but it worked for Neuman. It likewise worked for Maton, who also skipped his senior track season at Summit to run independently before college.

“He learned to love to run again,” Metcalf says of Neuman. “That’s what I emphasized. Let’s go have some fun, let’s run the trails, let’s run at Smith Rock … do different things a high school kid in track would not be able to do. We did longer stuff so he would be ready for college.”

For Neuman, Metcalf says, passing on his final year of high school track “was the right call.”

Neuman sat out his freshman year at Oregon, and he had surgery in February 2014 after a long battle with Achilles tendinitis. He has managed to stay healthy the past two years, and last fall he finished 13th at the Pac-12 cross-country championships.

“I haven’t had any major injuries but something always gets sore and you need to take a couple days off,” Neuman says. “The last two years I’ve stayed healthy, but it’s been a constant battle. It’s still something I’m working on — staying healthy week to week.”

Metcalf says Neuman is often a “wild card” in races.

“Sometimes he’s on fire and sometimes he has a health issue, where he struggles,” Metcalf says. “There’s no real answer for it. Last year at Pac-12s he was on fire and just ran great down in Arizona. Two weeks ago he looked solid, but he wasn’t up there with his teammates. A good thing for him is he’s got short-term memory. If he has a not-so-good race, he can bounce back from it. He doesn’t get down. He’s just a mentally strong young man.”

Neuman is a biology major who expects to earn his bachelor’s degree after the upcoming winter term. His career goal is to become a doctor in emergency medicine or general surgery, and he is currently applying to medical schools.

For now, he is still enjoying being a part of the vaunted Oregon distance-running program.

“I’m just super proud of him,” Metcalf says. “Obviously he’s a great runner, and he went to the greatest running school of all time. He could have gone somewhere else and been the top dog. He’s held his own … and he’s always in scoring position for the Ducks.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,