When senior Chris Derrick came to the Farm in the fall of 2008, he and the Stanford men’s cross country team had one goal in mind.
Four years, four national championships.
Unfortunately for “The Machine,” this goal did not come to fruition.
The men are coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish at NCAA nationals last year after entering the final meet of the season with a No. 1 ranking. The performance followed an even more shocking finish in 2009, when the Cardinal placed tenth.
Still, Derrick is confident that the team’s chances at a title are still among the best in the nation.
“I definitely don’t think the window has closed at all,” the two-sport All-American in cross country and track and field said. “There are a couple of really, really good teams out there. But what we’ve been lacking is performance at nationals. We’re just trying to focus on getting ourselves to do the best we can on that day.”
Finding its stride on the biggest stage is one of the main objectives for the Card, but it may not be the biggest problem. Stanford lost All-American Elliott Heath to graduation at the end of last season, a loss that undoubtedly changes the dynamics of the squad. Derrick, Heath and senior Jake Riley were the clear-cut top runners, sticking together through the vast majority of races last year while pushing the pace for Stanford.
Even with a vital piece of the trio missing, Derrick isn’t quick to suggest a major change in strategy come race days.
“It’s kind of unknown at this point,” Derrick said. “Jake and I are still going to work together, but we’re going to be a bit more aggressive at the front. We’ll feel it out and try to make the judgment on what seems like the best strategy.”
Luckily for the Card, what the team loses in Heath it may make up for in depth and incoming firepower. Derrick pegged Joe and Jim Rosa, freshmen from West Windsor, N.J., as two new runners that could come in and contribute immediately. But Derrick stressed that there will be ample competition for a position as one of Stanford’s scoring members.
“There’s definitely a lot of opportunity for freshmen to contribute this year,” Derrick said. “There are a lot of people contending for the Top 7. That speaks volumes to the kind of depth we have.”
Stanford will also have to stay out of the training room as much as possible in order to succeed in the coming season. Although Derrick said that the team currently has a nearly clean bill of health, the Card has struggled in recent seasons with injuries to key runners. But with a bit of luck on the health front and key contributions from new runners, Stanford’s ceiling is as high as ever.
“It’s going to be a really tough competition for the title,” Derrick said, “but I think we’re as talented as any team there is.”