Halfway through last Monday’s NCAA Cross Country Championship race, the No. 5 Stanford men’s team was sitting in second place with two runners in the top 11. Heavy favorite No. 1 Wisconsin was already seemingly in cruise control for the team title—the Badgers were just two places away from having five runners garner All-American honors—but the Cardinal was putting on an impressive showing without its No. 3 runner, redshirt junior Benjamin Johnson, who was sidelined with a foot injury.
Over the next 5,000 meters, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Colorado and No. 3 BYU all snuck past Stanford to knock head coach Jason Dunn’s team off the podium by a mere four points. But senior Chris Derrick ran one of the best races of his already impressive collegiate career, outkicking Iona’s Leonard Korir down the stretch to match Ryan Hall ’05 and Neftalem Araia ’08 for the best NCAA position in Stanford history with a runner-up finish in the individual race.
The No. 13 women’s team ran a solid race, earning the squad its first top-10 finish since 2008 in a very crowded field. Junior Kathy Kroeger paced the Card with a 21st-place finish on the 6-kilometer course and was joined by redshirt senior Stephanie Marcy as an All-American, the first such honor for both runners in cross country.
On a cold, cloudy day in Terre Haute, Ind., the races on both sides were sizzling. Despite finishing in 28:57.5, Derrick was 13 seconds behind winner Lawi Lalang of Arizona. Lalang—competing in just his first season of cross country—capped off an undefeated season with the win and added a course record in the process.
Teammate and fellow senior Jake Riley hung with Derrick and the lead pack for the first several kilometers before Lalang threw down the gauntlet as he has in almost every race this season and surged ahead after two miles.
Southern Utah’s Cameron Levins and Korir went with him, but no one could catch the Kenyan as he burned the field and opened up a 14-second gap less than a mile after making his move.
Derrick, who has a reputation for closing fast, chose to hang back and not try to run with Lalang, instead coming on strong in the final kilometers to first pass Levins, Oregon’s Luke Puskedra and Wisconsin’s Mohammed Ahmed, and finally kick past Korir in the final 300 meters to finish second. Riley was an All-American for the second straight year after crossing the line in 18th place.
After the race, Derrick said he had mixed emotions despite his fourth consecutive top-10 finish and felt there were a few lingering questions in his mind about what could have been.
“I still feel like I left here without being 100-percent happy, as a team and as an individual,” he said. “Our highest finish was third place as freshmen, and at the time I was happy but felt like there was more on the horizon, and we never accomplished our goal of winning a national championship as a team, and it’s a little disappointing.
“Races like these are won and lost on the margins, not talent-wise or work-ethic-wise,” Derrick added. “I don’t think I ran a courageous race. I think I ran smart and ran tough, but I had to depend on other people to slip up. But there are questions I have to ask myself. I know the way that I ran which was planned, but did I run the race that gave me the best chance to win? At the end of the day, I think it was the right decision, but there’s always some lingering doubt.”
Stanford did, however, have one of its better showings this season on the national stage. Sophomore Andrew Berberick surprised many by coming in 55th overall, 10 places ahead of Brendan Gregg in the redshirt senior’s final race.
Sophomore Erik Olson completed the Cardinal’s scoring by finishing 127th but improved his time and place from last year’s race.
“I thought we ran pretty well,” Dunn said. “I can’t remember a race that so closely followed the rankings. I think that just shows how good all the top teams were this season. It hurts to miss the podium by such a small margin, but all of the teams ahead of us ran really well.”
The same was true on the women’s side, where just 27 points separated the top four teams, and several schools had surprising results. No. 4 Georgetown took the team title with 162 points, holding No. 3 Washington eight points back, two-time defending champion Villanova 19 behind and heavy pre-race favorite No. 1 Florida State 26 points off the pace.
But the field had plenty of other notable finishes—No. 8 Arizona came in 19th, No. 6 Colorado slipped to 11th and No. 16 Oregon stormed to a fifth-place finish behind a great race from junior Jordan Hasay.
Hasay finished second to Villanova’s Sheila Reid, who won her second straight individual crown with a big kick to shake Hasay in the final 50 meters.
The Cardinal was done in by a lack of depth in the end, as the team’s fourth and fifth runners—sophomore Jessica Tonn and junior Claire Durkin—finished in 111th and 192nd place, respectively.
With the cross country season complete, many of the runners on both teams will turn their attention to indoor track, where Stanford should have one of the strongest sides in the nation, with Derrick and senior Elliott Heath forming a formidable duo.