Cross Country: Home triumphs

Sept. 28, 2010, 1:55 a.m.

It was déjà vu at the Stanford Golf Course on Saturday, as the Stanford men’s and women’s cross country teams swept the Stanford Invitational once again.

Cross Country: Home triumphs
The men's cross country team defended its No. 1 national ranking in taking first place at Saturday's Stanford Invitational. A strong team effort saw the Cardinal to victory. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

The No. 1 men’s side looked to reclaim its dominance from one year ago, when it took the first four positions in the men’s 8,000-meter race. Although the individual title went to a non-Cardinal runner this year, Stanford placed four runners in the top 10.

Senior David McNeill of Northern Arizona won the race with a time of 23:18. McNeill jumped out to a big lead after 800 meters, at one point beating the field by almost 30 seconds. He was chased by a quartet of Cardinal runners—juniors Chris Derrick and Benjamin Johnson, redshirt junior Jake Riley and senior Elliott Heath.

Although McNeill’s performance caught many of the spectators off guard, Stanford knew what to expect from last year’s NCAA Championships runner-up.

“It wasn’t necessarily surprising to see McNeill go out fast, but it was a little surprising to see him make such a rapid move after hanging back for the first six to eight hundred meters,” Heath said. “He is a great runner, so we were definitely expecting to see him at the front of the race, but when he made his move early, we decided to let him go a little bit and work together as a team for a while.”

Toward the end of the race, the front of the pack kicked hard. In another classic finish, Heath, Riley and Derrick crossed the line side-by-side, just four seconds behind McNeill with identical times of 23:22. Johnson dropped just behind, but finished in 23:41, good for eighth overall. Redshirt sophomore Miles Unterreiner capped off the men’s scoring with a 15th-place finish in 24:05.

Heath felt the team, which beat second-place Arkansas by 12 points, executed its strategy well on Saturday.

“Coming away from the race, I think we generally ran the way we wanted to heading in,” he said. “There is always a lot of excitement that goes along with the first meet of the year because it gives us some indication of how all the summer training has set us up for the season. We had a couple of guys that didn’t have great races, but I think we ran fairly well as a team overall.”

“The first meet is always a tough thing to judge, because it is usually quite hot and so much tends to change as the season moves along,” Derrick added. “I would say that the meet confirmed a lot of the things we have been seeing in training.”

The No. 14 Cardinal women also came away victorious on Saturday, breezing through the competition with just 41 total points. They were led by sophomore sensation Kathy Kroeger, who placed first overall in the 6,000-meter race with a time of 20:06.

Junior Georgia Griffin was close behind, finishing in fifth overall while running a personal-best time of 20:45.

Also finishing in the top 15 were sophomore Alex Dunne (10th), freshman Jessica Tonn (12th), senior Alex Gits (14th) and junior Steph Marcy (15th).

Aside from an overall team title, Kroeger says the women set out to accomplish another achievement on Saturday.

“Our goal for the race was to win as a team and particularly to destroy Cal,” she said. “We definitely accomplished that and set the tone for a strong season of improvement ahead.”

The women ran a slightly different race than the men, sending Kroeger out in front of the rest of the team. This strategy worked out to their advantage on Saturday, but the Cardinal women see this difference as room for improvement.

“The men’s team does a really good job of running as a pack,” Kroeger said. “On the women’s side, we aren’t quite as good at that yet. As we continue to consistently train hard together and race more together, we should be able to work together better in races.”

Up next for both teams is the NCAA Pre-National competition, which takes place on Oct. 16 in Terre Haute, Ind. There, the Cardinal will face a stronger field, and fans will be able to better gauge the potential of both the men’s and women’s teams.

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