For the past four years, senior Chris Derrick’s dream has been to help his men’s cross country team win an NCAA championship. After three top-10 finishes for the team–both of which came with the Cardinal entering the championship meet ranked No. 1 in the country and included top-seven finishes for Derrick–it’s now or never for the Naperville, Ill. native who will lead No. 6 Stanford into battle on Monday against one of the strongest fields in recent years in Terre Haute, Ind.
Just after that race concludes, junior Kathy Kroeger and redshirt senior Stephanie Marcy will take their No. 13 women’s side out in search of the program’s sixth NCAA title, but its first since the Cardinal’s remarkable run of four national championships in five years from 2003-07.
It won’t be easy for either side, due to a variety of internal and external factors.
On the men’s side, no one can quite predict how the competition will shape up. There are six teams that most agree have the talent to possibly take the title, and Stanford falls into that group along with No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 BYU, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Colorado.
The Cowboys are two-time defending national champions on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course and have five All-Americans, all of whom have been running very well of late. But the Badgers are the top-ranked team right now, and with their performance at the Great Lakes Regional–the team’s top-five runners all crossed the finish line together to win the race handily–all signs point to a fierce fight on Monday morning.
Stanford clearly has two of the top runners in the country in Derrick and fellow senior Jake Riley, who finished sixth place individually at last year’s NCAAs, one spot behind Derrick. And redshirt senior Brendan Gregg has found the top-form that made him a dangerous runner as a sophomore and junior, turning in some very fast times after recovering from an injury that kept him out all last season.
But the Cardinal needs more if it wants to hang with the depth that some of the other teams bring to the table.
In the Pac-12 Championships, the Buffs sneaked past the Card by a mere three points thanks to a big gap between the fourth and fifth-place finishers for Stanford.
Freshman Joe Rosa might be the one fighting to keep the team in the race as that fifth runner, as he turned in a very nice 19th-place performance at the Western Regionals. Or it could be sophomore Erik Olson, who finished in 12th place at the Pac-12 meet, but slipped back a few spots at Regionals.
Either way, the race is likely to be one of the closest in years, and it will be very interesting to see what Derrick does in the battle for the individual crown. Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang has twice run away from the field halfway through the Pac-12 and Regionals meets, and Derrick has come up short trying to reel him in both times while still trying to pick up his teammates.
If Lalang, who is the odds-on favorite in the individual race, makes a similar move, or if Iona standout Lenny Korir tries to separate himself early, it will be interesting to see if Derrick tries to stay with them and pull out all the stops to try and win an individual title, or if he waits a little longer to help his teammates with a more strategic race.
A similar conflict might shape up for Kroeger on the women’s side. Stanford is unlikely to challenge for the overall title, as Florida State, Vanderbilt and a couple other programs appear to have too much depth for the Card to overcome this season.
But Kroeger finished seventh at the Regionals in a comfortable race, and was second at the ultra-competitive Pac-12s. She and Marcy, who was seventh at the conference meet, will likely be up front with the leaders, but there could be some space going back to freshman Aisling Cuffe and junior Claire Durkin, who round out Stanford’s scorers.
It will all shape up on race day, with the gun for the men’s 10K going off just after 11 a.m. PST, and the women toeing the starting line just before 12 p.m. PST. Both races will be available to stream online at NCAA.com