Cross country teams prepare for Pac-12 championships

Oct. 29, 2015, 1:08 a.m.

No. 10 women’s and No. 23 men’s cross country will boast their strongest lineups yet this season at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships in Colfax, Washington on Friday.

Stanford, CA - April 28, 2013.  Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, Cobb Track and Angell Field, Stanford University.
After dealing with a series of injuries, fifth-year seniors Jim and Joe Rosa (above) will race together for the first time since the 2012 NCAA Championships this Friday at the Pac-12 Championships. (SHIRLEY PEFLEY/

Both the women’s and men’s teams will look to counter recent drops in their national rankings. The Cardinal women’s team began the season ranked No. 4, while the men’s team’s ranking fell just over 20 spots from its No. 2 preseason ranking. That dramatic drop took place after the team placed 21st out of 36 teams at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational last week — with a young and less experienced lineup.

With one month until the NCAA championships, this week’s additions of some of Stanford’s strongest and most experienced runners may provide a more accurate reflection of both teams’ strengths.

The women’s team will look to benefit from the addition of three standout seniors to its already impressive lineup: Aisling Cuffe, Rebecca Mehra and Claudia Saunders. The Pac-12 championships will be Cuffe’s second race this season after missing 15 months of competition due to injury.

Cuffe, the 2013 Pac-12 champion, showed that she is ready to compete at elite levels in her debut earlier this season. Cuffe won the Washington Invitational on Oct. 2, covering the 6k course in 19:41.

Mehra and Saunders, both All-American middle distance track runners, will compete on Friday in their first cross country race of the season. Despite this added horsepower, the team may still feel the absence of sophomore Elise Cranny, the top freshman in the NCAA last year. Cranny has not competed so far this year due to an injury.

Junior Vanessa Fraser, who finished 13th in the NCAA outdoor 5,000 meters last spring, will compete as the Cardinal’s No. 2 runner. Fraser, who was the Cardinal’s No. 6 runner at the Pac-12 championships last year, will show off a Stanford career defined by hard work — and results to show for it.

“I’ve had a lot of growth over the last couple of years and I think it’s been really good for our team to see,” Fraser said. “I wasn’t necessarily a five star recruit, and it goes to show that anybody can have that type of growth and improvement.”

Last week, Fraser ran at the No. 1 spot to lead the Cardinal to finish fourth out of 45 teams at the Pre-National Invitational in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Cardinal men, currently ranked behind five other Pac-12 schools, may be hoping that Jim and Joe Rosa draw on any twin superpowers they might possess to dominate the 8k course. The standout twins, both cross country All-Americans, will be racing in their first cross country race together since the 2012 NCAA Championships. Both Rosas have struggled with injuries, but still achieved impressive results: Jim Rosa was the 2013 Pac-12 runner-up and Joe Rosa finished third in the conference last year. Collin Leibold, a graduate transfer from Georgetown, will make his Stanford debut after being named a second-team outdoor track All-American last spring in the 5,000 meters.

The Pac-12 Championships mark the beginning of marquee competition in collegiate cross country’s fast-paced season, which unfolds over just two and a half months. The fall season also corresponds with the busy start of the school year, as Cardinal women encountered last week while competing in Louisville during Stanford’s midterm period. Despite the restless pace, Fraser said she is confident that her team is prepared for its biggest test yet.

“It’s fast,” Fraser said. “But we’re ready for it.”


Contact Alexa Corse at corsea ‘at’

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