Running in front of a home crowd for the final time in their careers, the men’s cross country senior trio of Chris Derrick, Jake Riley and Brendan Gregg all cruised to top-10 finishes at the NCAA West Regional Championships on Saturday.
Their efforts, combined with strong finishes from freshman Joe Rosa and sophomore Erik Olson, gave the Cardinal the win and a spot in next week’s NCAA Championships.
Just a few hours later on the same course, junior Kathy Kroeger led the women’s squad to an at-large bid in the NCAAs after her seventh-place effort helped No. 13 Stanford finish third behind No. 3 Washington and No. 8 Arizona.
It was a nice rebound from the men’s performance at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago, when Colorado snuck past the No. 5 Cardinal down the stretch to grab the conference crown, a fact that was not lost on Gregg.
“It was nice to go out with a win,” he said after the race. “Regionals is all about qualifying, but it’s good to get a ‘W.’ And it was fun finishing in front of a home crowd for the last time on the golf course.”
Derrick, Riley, Gregg and Rosa ran together for much of the race, with Derrick eventually breaking off to try and run down leader Lawi Lalang in the final kilometers. Riley hung with the lead chase pack, finishing fifth and covering the 10-kilometer course in 28:59, while Gregg was content to take a spot at the head of the second pack, 27 seconds back of Riley.
Rosa and Olson couldn’t sustain the pace over the full distance, but both held on to break 30 minutes and help stave off a late charge by Portland, which had two runners sandwiched between Derrick and Riley but finished just three points back of Stanford.
Men’s coach Jason Dunn said before the race that he was hoping the team would be able to shut out the distractions that came with being on campus for ESPN GameDay’s arrival and the festivities early that morning. After the race, he was optimistic that his team might be peaking at the right time this year, as opposed to previous seasons that saw dominant regular season efforts followed by difficult defeats at the NCAA Championships.
“Brendan ran really well and I thought Joe Rosa did great in his first 10k,” Dunn told GoStanford.com. “He is really coming around well and I am excited where he is at. We still need to shore up a few of our guys. I still don’t feel like we have had a great day all year long. I am hoping that great day is going to be nine days from now.”
Women’s coach PattiSue Plumer shared some of Dunn’s slight disappointment, as she had hoped the team would bounce back from its third-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships and run better on its home course.
“I thought it was a solid race for us,” Plumer said. “I was a little disappointed that we did not get second, but I was happy with the effort.”
While Kroeger ran her usual top-10 caliber race, redshirt senior Stephanie Marcy, freshman Aisling Cuffe and sophomore Jessica Tonn all turned in very nice efforts as well–Marcy, Cuffe and Tonn finished in 11th, 22nd and 29th places respectively.
But from there it was 13 spots back to the team’s fifth and final scorer, junior Claire Durkin in 42nd place. Meanwhile, the Huskies slipped all five of their top runners into the top 15, running away with the title by 48 points over the Wildcats and 61 points better than the Cardinal.
After the race, Stanford slipped out of the top 10 in the rankings, moving down five spots from No. 8 to No. 13. It will be a tough task for anyone to take down No. 1 Florida State, the favorite on the women’s side with just one race remaining.
The Cardinal is among the group of about six schools considered to be contenders for the NCAA team title on the men’s side, along with defending champion No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 3 BYU and No. 6 Colorado. Derrick and Riley ought to also be in serious competition for individual honors, but it remains to be seen if anyone will be able to chase down Lalang, who is undefeated in his first cross country season.
Riley put it simply when asked what the team’s goal was.
“Win, we just want to win,” he said. “We’ve been beaten in a couple of really tough races, and we need to make up for that. And I think if we all run like we’re capable of, we will definitely be in that mix.”
Indiana State is this year’s host for the NCAA Championships, which will take place on Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind. The men’s 10-kilometer race is scheduled to begin just after 9 a.m PST, with the women to follow shortly on the six-kilometer course just before 10 a.m. PST.