Cross Country: Running behind

Dec. 1, 2010, 1:38 a.m.

The Stanford men’s and women’s cross country teams fell short in their quests to win Stanford’s 100th team titles after respective subpar performances at the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year. The men’s team finished in fourth place, while the women could only muster a 13th-place finish.

Liberty’s Sam Chelanga ran his trademark-style race, and blazed out to a strong lead to win the men’s individual title for the second straight year with a time of 29:22.2. Arizona’s Stephen Sambu, the eventual runner-up, followed him closely for the majority of the race, finishing just behind one of the best collegiate distance runners in recent memory in 29:26.5. While Chelenga and Sambu had gold and silver wrapped up long before the race was over, the real chess match took place behind the top two, as the national powerhouses engaged in a strategic battle for the team title.

The No. 1 Cardinal men, who had been dominant in every race leading up to the Nov. 22 meet in Terre Haute, Ind., elected once again to group its top runners—juniors Chris Derrick and Jake Riley and senior Elliott Heath—together in hopes of securing three spots in the top 10. Plagued by injuries to veteran junior runners Brendan Gregg and Benjamin Johnson, Stanford would need its stars to run at their absolute best.

Derrick and Riley came through, finishing 5th and 6th with times of 29:44.7 and 29:45.0 respectively. Unfortunately, Heath struggled in the final cross country race of his collegiate career, as he fell behind his teammates’ pace and finished with a disappointing time of 30:35.5, good enough for 42nd.

Senior J.T. Sullivan and freshman Erik Olson rounded out the top five for Stanford, finishing in 100th and 132nd, respectively.

Oklahoma State repeated as national champions, followed by Florida State, Wisconsin and Stanford.

The Cardinal women fared even worse at the top, with sophomore Kathy Kroeger, the team’s No. 1 runner in every race this season, unable to complete the 8,000-meter course due to injury. Stanford turned to redshirt junior Steph Marcy for a much-needed boost, but her team-best finish of 55th was not enough to vault the Cardinal into the top 10.

Sophomore Alex Dunne and freshman Jessica Tonn finished in 85th and 96th, respectively, earning valuable experience at nationals while boosting the Cardinal with top-100 finishes. Junior Georgia Griffin and senior Alex Gits completed the scoring for Stanford, who ended the season in near-tragic fashion after capturing the Pac-10 title just weeks earlier.

The Villanova women joined the Oklahoma State men as repeat national champions, earning the top team spot ahead of Florida State, Texas Tech and Georgetown.

With the cross country season complete, Stanford’s distance runners will turn their focus to the indoor track and field season, which is scheduled to begin just after winter break.

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