For the first time in five years, Stanford has cemented itself as the center for Pac-10 distance running. On Saturday, the No. 1 men’s and No. 9 women’s cross country teams won their respective races in Seattle at the Pac-10 Championships, bringing both conference titles back to the Farm.
The women were up first in the 6,000-meter race on a rainy day in Washington. Though ranked in the top 10 nationally, the Cardinal’s chances at victory appeared low as it was set to face No. 2 Oregon, No. 6 Arizona and No. 20 Washington, the defending champion.
Although the Ducks took the individual title, Stanford showcased its depth. A second-place finish from sophomore Kathy Kroeger, a fifth-place result from redshirt junior Stephanie Marcy and an eighth-place finish by freshman Jessica Tonn managed to squeak out a victory. The Cardinal squad was the only team to place three runners in the top 10 as it clinched its first Pac-10 title since 2007.
Stanford finished with 62 points, the highest total by a conference champion since 1989. In an extremely tight race, Arizona placed second with 65 points, and Oregon and Washington tied for third with 68. With the top four teams all within six points of each other, Saturday’s race was the closest conference championship in Pac-10 history.
“Our goal going into the race was to win, but we knew it would be a really tough, really close race,” Kroeger said, after finishing with a time of 19:49.43. “At a couple points during the race, they announced current team scores, and we were consistently among the top teams, so we knew we had a shot. But ultimately it would come down to finishing strong in the last mile of the race. Even after everyone had finished, we didn’t know who had won until they announced the scores.”
Stanford also received scoring performances from junior Georgia Griffin and Alex Gits, as well as strong finishes from sophomore Alex Dunne and redshirt junior Madeline Duhon. Gits, a senior who finished in 26th, discussed the implications of this meet for the remaining races of the season.
“We now more than ever have a huge target on our backs,” she said. “The Pac-10 is just as competitive as the larger upcoming races, so we know now, going in, we have to repeat our performances or better them to see the same results.”
In the 8,000-meter men’s race, there was never any doubt once the gun sounded that Stanford would take home the title.
The Cardinal was once again led by the Big Three, a trio comprised of veteran runners Elliott Heath, Jake Riley and Chris Derrick. While Heath crossed the finish line in first place with a time of 23:00.46, his individual conference title was all but a technicality, as Riley and Derrick finished with virtually identical scores of 23:00.57 and 23:00.59, respectively.
“The major goal of this program is to win championships,” Derrick said, “so when we go out there and accomplish that, it always feels good.”
Possibly more impressive than the finish of the top three were the performances of the Cardinal’s secondary runners. Without veterans Benjamin Johnson and Brendan Gregg, Stanford needed to receive stellar runs from Riley Sullivan and Erik Olson. The two did not disappoint.
Olson and Riley Sullivan finished in 11th and 15th, respectively, adding to the ninth-place finish of surprise star Miles Unterreiner and the 10th-place performance of J.T. Sullivan.
“Our entire second pack of guys really ran a smart race and that is what ultimately won the meet for us,” Heath said. “I think there are some other teams out there with some good depth, but I think there are very few that can match up with our depth if we continue to make strides as a team like this weekend.”
With all seven runners inside the top 15, Stanford easily won with just 25 total points. No. 3 Oregon finished in a distant second with 56 points, followed by No. 22 Cal in third with 86. The championship marked the men’s first since 2005.
Up next for the Stanford men and women are the NCAA West Regionals, which take place in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 13.
While the Cardinal will undoubtedly turn its sights toward the final meets of the year, members of the cross country program can enjoy the experience of being the last champions in the current version of the Pac-10.
“Seeing as this is the last one there will ever be, it feels really good that it went to Stanford,” Jake Riley said. “It’s a testament to the hard work we’ve been putting in all season, and it’s great to have something to show for it.”
“It is such an unbelievable feeling,” Gits added. “I remember my freshman year being overjoyed to be part of a program that wins championships, and it is such a joy for the rest of our competitors to know, once again, they can’t keep Stanford out of the equation.”