By Kit Ramgopal
The Stanford men’s cross country team exploded onto the national scene with the full speed of its roster for the first time this Friday, earning second place at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational to cement hopes for a strong postseason run. On Saturday, the women’s team traveled to Indiana for the Pre-National Invitational. Four Cardinal women crossed the finish line within 19 seconds on the 6-kilometer LaVern Gibson Course, earning a sixth-place finish for the Stanford team.
“This was a huge step forward for our team,” men’s head coach Chris Miltenberg said. “This is by far the best we’ve ever been at a point in the season.”
The Nuttycombe Invitational brings together 19 of the nation’s top 30 teams. Stanford entered competition ranked at No. 11, but the Cardinal men defied expectations to claim a second-place finish. This jump in rankings was due in large part to the return of senior Sean McGorty and sophomore Grant Fisher, who competed for the first time since Olympic Trials in July. Fisher finished fourth on the 8-kilometer course while McGorty finished sixth. Fisher was the top American-born runner on the course, with a 23:55.2 finish. He was closely tailed by McGorty, who finished in 23:58.6.
The No. 3-5 Stanford runners — the “critical group,” according to Miltenberg — were led by fifth-year senior Garrett Sweatt (24:25.9), followed closely by senior Jack Keelan (24:27.5) and senior Sam Wharton (24:28.9). Sweatt fell back mid-race, creating separation between the Cardinal runners. However, in the final stretch, the top five Cardinal runners surged forward as a team to finish within 32.7 seconds of each other.
Despite the strong showing, Stanford could not overcome the 78 points of top-ranked Northern Arizona, who had five scorers ahead of Stanford’s No. 3 runner. However, the Stanford men secured victories over No. 3 BYU and defending NCAA champion Syracuse. This is still a dramatic improvement over last year, where Stanford ended the Invitational in 21st place as a team.
In the women’s Pre-National Invitational, senior Vanessa Fraser led the Cardinal to place 24th with a 20:39.7 finish, followed by senior Danielle Katz in 29th (20:45.9), freshman Christina Aragon in 41st (20:53.6) and freshman Ella Donaghu in 47th (20.58.5). These times marked the debuts of Aragon and Donaghu, two of the seven fastest 1,500-meter high school runners of all time who were among the top recruits for Stanford’s Class of 2020.
Overall, Stanford ended the meet with 229 points, falling just behind Arkansas to hold onto sixth place.
However, the Stanford women had to race without the speed of Stanford Invitational winner Elise Cranny, the 2014 Pac-12 runner-up. Cranny injured her foot on Friday during the pre-meet shakeout, and she was sidelined as a precautionary measure. Cranny and Fraser are usually the Stanford’s two top runners, and their competition on the course is a defining dynamic of the Cardinal women’s team.
Despite the fact that Stanford did not end up running at full roster capacity this weekend, DeBole felt good about her team’s performance.
“It was really positive,” she said after the meet.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will next compete at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships on Oct. 28 in Tuscon, Arizona.
Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.