Despite missing several of its top runners, the No. 3 men’s cross country team put on a strong showing at the Notre Dame Invitational last Saturday, scoring 202 points to place fourth in the competitive Blue Division. No. 14 BYU won the race, with No. 10 Florida State and No. 12 Princeton finishing second and third, respectively.
Men’s coach Jason Dunn was impressed with the team’s performance in very tough conditions—winds were gusting up to 30 miles per hour during the race, and heavy rain in the area made for a very wet and muddy course.
Missing from the Cardinal’s usual starting seven were senior All-Americans Chris Derrick and Jacob Riley, who finished one-two in Stanford’s win at the Stanford Invitational last month. Both are expected to challenge for the individual crown at the NCAA Championships in November.
Redshirt senior Brendan Gregg, back at full health after sitting out last year due to injury, picked up the slack as the team’s number one, crossing the finish line in 12th place at 24:23. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Berberick was hot on Gregg’s heels, placing 21st at 24:38, followed closely by redshirt senior J.T. Sullivan at 24:51.
BYU’s Miles Batty won the meet’s individual title in 23:59, holding off Princeton’s Donn Cabral and Florida State’s Mike Fout down the final stretch, and the Cougars placed five runners in the top 20 overall to win the team title comfortably. But Dunn was more concerned with staying healthy and getting the team running against solid competition.
“[Notre Dame] was an opportunity to expose more of our athletes to high-level competition,” Dunn said. “We have a deep roster and we are limited by the Pac-12 to a travel squad of 10 athletes, so this meet was a chance to evaluate these particular seven athletes. I was pleased that we were still able to finish relatively high in a large field, even without the majority of our top seven runners such as Chris and Jake, among others.”
The internal competition to make Stanford’s top seven runners appears to be very strong. Redshirt junior Kevin Havel and redshirt freshman Michael Atchoo rounded out the Cardinal’s top five at Notre Dame, with Havel finishing 59th and Atchoo 70th overall.
But it appears that close to six or seven runners are all still in the running for the final spots on the “A” team. Derrick, Riley, sophomore Erik Olson and redshirt junior Benjamin Johnson are all but locked in, with Gregg likely holding an edge for a spot given his early results this season and experience in the past. After Gregg, however, it gets interesting—freshman Joe Rosa and redshirt sophomore Tyler Valdes looked very good at the Stanford Invitational, as did Berberick at Notre Dame. But redshirt junior Riley Sullivan, J.T. Sullivan and redshirt junior Miles Unterreiner have all performed well in the past at big meets, and any combination of runners could make it to Terre Haute, Ind., for the NCAA Championships in November.
Looking ahead to next week’s Wisconsin Invitational, Dunn noted that he hopes the team can continue improving in the upcoming weeks.
“Our goals at a meet like Wisconsin are to compete as well as possible on that given day. It will be a competitive field, and I want us to be challenged before we enter the championship portion of the season,” he said. “Our goal will be to win the meet, but I am mostly concerned with how well we manage ourselves in such a competitive environment.”
“We have a talented group that has put in a lot of work up to this point, so if we can arrive at NCAAs healthy and fit, we will have an opportunity to challenge for an NCAA title,” he continued.
In order to do that, the Cardinal will likely have to get past top-ranked Oklahoma State, winners of the past two NCAA team titles, but the Oct. 14 test against No. 2 Wisconsin should provide a good barometer of where the team stands as the season gets into gear.