Last Saturday, the Cardinal cross country teams finished their seasons at the NCAA Championship in Louisville, with the No. 3 men faltering a bit en route to a 16th place finish and the No. 4 women finding their way back to the podium with a third-place effort.
Both races yielded larger than normal fields as 31 teams competed in each one; the women had 253 finishers and the men 245. The atmosphere was very loud as all the fans knew that the entire season boiled down to this one day.
For the women’s race, the favored teams according to Flotrack were No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 1 Florida State and No. 8 Providence. The actual finish for the team competition mostly matched these expectations as the Ducks won the title with 114 points, over Providence (183), No. 4 Stanford (198), Florida State (202) and No. 6 Michigan (247). The emotion for these runners was readily apparent — the Oregon women cried after hearing they had unofficially won their school’s third-ever national title in their team tent.
But this meet had a bizarre controversy over the women’s team results. After hearing they had unofficially won, the Oregon women were later told that Providence had beaten them by six points. Because this result did not make sense to former coach Vin Lananna, the Ducks pressed their case to find out they did indeed win. The problem was that, for whatever reason, Oregon senior Alexi Pappas — who finished eighth overall — had been left out of the results.
The Oregon coach was not shy in her displeasure with the organizers, telling Flotrack that the NCAA was way out of line. “Seriously? Like really, cross country? Really? This is what we do? This is how we determine a national, state championship?”
The individual competition was about as exciting as any racing fan could hope for, as Iowa State senior Betsy Saina, Oregon senior Jordan Hasay and Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino were dead even going into the final stretch. Saina won the sprint, finishing in 19:27.9, and D’Agostino beat Hasay by less than one-tenth of a second as both women finished in 19:28.6.
Stanford made it to the podium, led by its trio of All-Americans, sophomore Aisling Cuffe 21st in 20:03.8, senior Kathy Kroeger 24th in 20:05 and freshman Cayla Hatton 28th in 20:06.2. Kroeger had been with the leaders for the first half of the race but was dropped by the lead group as those women ran a faster second half of the race. The Cardinal women were rounded out by junior Jessica Tonn 43rd in 20:18.9, senior Justine Fedronic 150th in 21:05.5, sophomore Julia Foster 161st in 21:11.9 and freshman Megan Lacy 189th in 21:27.5.
For the men’s race, the favored teams according to Flotrack were No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Colorado, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Wisconsin. But the actual results had several surprise performances. No. 1 Oklahoma State did win easily, with four runners in the top 24 and a total of 72 points, over defending champion Wisconsin (135), Colorado (158), No. 10 Northern Arizona (191) and No. 18 Florida State (238). The Cowboy men also expressed their emotion after winning by chanting “O-S-U.”
There was no result controversy for the men’s 10K and the individual race was not as close, but it was thrilling for a different reason. Early on, Texas Tech junior Kennedy Kithuka broke away with the dominant Arizona duo of senior Stephen Sambu and sophomore Lawi Lalang. But for the first time in his career, Lalang did not win. Kithuka captured the national title with a course record time of 28:31.3 over Sambu in 28:38.6 and Lalang 28:51.8.
Stanford was not able to have its best performance at this meet, as the Cardinal placed 16th as a team. The Rosa twins ran toward the front early but faded later in the race. So, unlike the women, they had no top-40 individual finishers, with no one earning the distinction of All-American. The Cardinal’s six runners finished within a minute of each other. Senior Benjamin Johnson led them with a 48th-place finish in 30:15.9, sophomore Erik Olson was 87th in 30:37.3, sophomore Joe Rosa 112th in 30:51.2, junior Tyler Stutzman 137th in 31:02.5, senior Miles Unterreiner 140th in 31:03.2 and sophomore Jim Rosa 167th in 31:16.7.
Both Stanford teams had solid seasons overall, although the men’s results at the NCAA Championship were not what the Cardinal runners had expected. The cross country season is over, so the men and women will have to wait until indoor track and field begins on Jan. 12 to get back into competition.