The Stanford cross country teams will compete in the Pac-12 Championships this Friday in Tucson, Arizona.
After finishing second and third in last year’s championship, both the No. 2 men’s and No. 11 women’s teams are expected to finish in the top five of this extremely tough conference, which features most of the top-ranked teams in the nation. In particular, Stanford expects a lot from its first six competing freshmen, who have been ranked as the best cross country recruits in the country by FloRank.
As with any Pac-12 championship, this meet promises to be a tight race. Five of the top 10 national teams are scheduled to compete. Of those five, three of the teams – Northern Arizona, Stanford and Oregon – are arguably the three best cross country teams in the country. As head men’s coach Chris Miltenberg puts it, the Pac-12 is “not only the best conference in the country but maybe one of the best conferences assembled.”
After a strong performance at the Wisconsin Invitational two weeks ago due to the returns of senior Sean McGorty and sophomore Grant Fisher, men’s cross country is now ranked second in the country. McGorty and Fisher finished fourth and sixth, leading the Cardinal to second place along with senior Garrett Sweatt, senior Jack Keelan and senior Sam Whartone.
On Friday, Stanford will need a collective effort in order to surpass other teams such as No. 1 Arizona, No. 3 Oregon or No. 7 Colorado. To supplement more experienced talent, freshmen Thomas Ratcliffe and Alek Parsons will run for the first time under the Cardinal uniform. These two new members of the team complete a very balanced group, according to Miltenberg.
Last year, Sean McGorty placed second in the Pac-12 championship, finishing only seven seconds behind Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, a three-time Pac-12 champion. Overall, Stanford finished second to Colorado.
This year, however, the men’s team seems to be a lot stronger and more cohesive.
“Our biggest asset is our team culture,” Miltenberg said. “We have a lot of guys who, over the last four years, have really made this their team.”
The women’s race will be similarly competitive. Colorado and Washington, respectively No. 1 and No. 2, are already appearing as the two prominent contenders for a national title. Stanford’s team, ranked No. 11, is likely move up after this race, as head women’s coach Elizabeth DeBole thinks her group can finish third.
This race marks the return of senior Sophie Chase and the college debut of freshman Fiona O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe is one of the four freshman runners on the young women’s team, a class of recruits that boasts tremendous talent.
Since the beginning of the season, these freshmen have really clicked with the team, according to DeBole. “The upperclassmen have done a great job of taking them under their wing,” DeBole said.
DeBole is confident that her group can efficiently run as a pack and finish within the same 30 seconds. She said this capacity is one of the team’s greatest strengths: “I think pack running is how we are good.”
Senior Vanessa Fraser, Stanford’s top finisher in Indiana two weeks ago, emerged as a leader of the team. Last year, Fraser finished 12th in the championship while Aisling Cuffe, a previous Stanford runner, won the race. Overall, the team placed third. This year, Fraser might be the one replacing Cuffe and leading the Cardinal to perhaps another great result. Senior Danielle Katz might also be one of Stanford’s lead runners this season, having just finished 29th in Indiana, only six seconds behind Fraser. All the other women on the team, especially the freshmen, will make their mark on the course this weekend following the example of such senior leadership.
Both coaches agree that their respective teams need to finish strong, which is something they have been lacking in their past races.
“If you look at the splits, we were third [in Indiana] with about 2k to go, and we ended up sixth,” DeBole said. However, neither coach seems to think that this will be an issue in Arizona this Friday.
Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu.