Our cross country teams have been very busy since my last blog post a few weeks ago; today, I will be talking about our experiences at the Wisconsin Invitational in mid-October and at the Pac-12 Championships last Friday.
As I explained, Wisconsin is, along with the Pre-National (Pre-Nats) meet, typically one of the largest and most competitive non-championship meets of the entire season. Held just outside Madison, the race is run on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, a venue designed specifically for races ranging from six to 10 kilometers. The layout is that of a true cross country course: long straightaways, gradual turns and some rolling hills, along with steady inclines and declines. It is also very spectator-friendly, and the folks at Wisconsin put on a truly excellent meet.
Although I was expecting very cold racing conditions (relative to our Stanford training environment), it was not nearly as bad as I envisioned. Temperatures hovered in the low 50s on the morning of the race, perfect weather by my standards. The seven-runner men’s team was a combination of our Stanford and Washington Invitational squads: Joe Rosa and Maksim “Maks” Korolev (our transfer from Harvard) returned after not making the trip to Seattle, with myself, Garrett Sweatt, Mike Atchoo, Sam Wharton and Jack Keelan rounding out the group.
The race went out very slowly, which allowed most of us to group up into a solid pack early on. The five us not named Joe or Maks (who were making waves up front) ran together until the five- or six-kilometer mark, when things started to string out as the pace was pushed. Ultimately, Maks ran a great final half to win the race, with Joe not far behind. Garrett, Mike and I finished with times in the 24:20s over the eight-kilometer (4.97 mile) course; Sam and Jack were a little further behind us. It definitely was not the great team effort we were hoping for, but it reminded us that nothing — nothing — ever comes easy in our sport, and that our performance in Seattle means nothing when the next starting gun sounds.
In the women’s race, true freshman Elise Cranny continued her blazing start to her collegiate career by crossing the finish line in seventh place, which, coincidentally, was our women’s team place in the race as well. Another performance of note came from sophomore Vanessa Fraser, who took first in the women’s open division race.
After a much-needed weekend off, we returned to action last Friday at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships, hosted by Cal at Metropolitan Golf Course in Oakland. The conditions were not ideal, as it was a cold, windy and rainy morning by the Bay, but our teams gritted out impressive performances that showed how far we have come as a program in the last few years under coach Chris Miltenberg.
The women’s race, which featured all 12 Pac-12 teams, started at 10 a.m. under rainy skies. Once again, Elise asserted herself at the front of the race, showing a level of confidence that is rare for a first-year runner. She steadily plodded away on the links-style golf course, which was set up in two-kilometer loops. She battled tough with veteran Arizona State runner Shelby Houlihan; although Elise finished second, she had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. She has had an outstanding season thus far, and athletes on both teams cannot wait to see what she does at the upcoming regional and national meets.
Thankfully for some, the rain abated, temporarily at least, just as the men’s race got underway at 11 a.m. The field featured defending Pac-12 and NCAA champion Colorado, as well as a perennially strong Oregon team and our Stanford squad. Oregon sophomore Edward Cheserek, already a multiple-time national champion whom some are calling perhaps the greatest collegiate distance runner of all time, controlled the race from the gun, eventually outkicking teammate Erik Jenkins to win his second consecutive Pac-12 cross country title. Joe bounced back from a tough race at Wisconsin to finish third for us, but the Colorado machine took spots 4-8 to capture the team title with a minuscule 30 points.
It was an extremely tight race for second between Oregon and Stanford, thanks in large part to Mike Atchoo’s punishing kick over the final meters, which pushed him past two Ducks right before the line. Garrett, Sam and Jack all placed in the 20s to pull us close, but Oregon nipped us by just three points. Highly-touted sophomore Sean McGorty made his season debut, and his 13th-place showing was crucial in helping us accomplish our ultimate goal: running great team cross country.
The best part is, with the NCAA West Region Championships only two weeks away, which will be held at the Stanford Golf Course, Duck-hunting season is just beginning! You can support us at home on Friday, Nov. 14.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.