Led by a runner-up performance from junior Grant Fisher, the No. 4 Cardinal men’s cross country placed fourth as the No. 5 women finished eighth at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Friday morning.
In a field of nearly 250 athletes from 35 teams, of which 20 are ranked, the men’s team finished with five runners in the top 50, including two in the top 15. On the women’s side, sophomore Fiona O’Keefe led the team with a twelfth-place finish.
In his season debut, Fisher has once again proved to be a national contender, finishing only 0.2 seconds behind Syracuse senior Justyn Knight. Fisher’s time of 23:39.1 for the 8k on the Thomas Zimmer Championship course marks a 16-second improvement from his fourth-place finish last year.
“I put myself in a good position,” Fisher said. “When the pack was 50, I wanted to be in the back. When it was 15, I wanted to be 10th and when it was five, I wanted to be third or fourth.”
In Friday’s race, Fisher’s strategy included pacing with sophomore Alex Ostberg, who finished 12th with a time of 23:54.1.
“The plan was to go out in two packs — one was to be Alex and myself — and everyone else in the other pack,” Fisher said. “We both worked really well together, and we were definitely building off the other’s momentum. Alex has a lot of momentum right now. It was awesome to see.”
As the race neared the end, runners from Northern Arizona University held the lead before Fisher made his move. Knight quickly responded, and a foot race to the finish line ensued, favoring the Syracuse senior.
“[Knight] is a really good runner, but my race plan was about being in the right spots, as was his,” Fisher said of Knight. “[He] was the better runner today.”
Fisher and Knight are two of the top returners from last year’s NCAA Cross-Country Championship. Both finished in the top five last year, and all signs suggests this year could be quite similar.
Fisher has yet to beat Knight in a cross-country race, as each of the past three encounters have sided towards Knight; however, the Syracuse senior has lost each of the two times he has faced Fisher on the track.
Along with Fisher and Ostberg, freshman Callum Bolger, sophomore Alek Parsons and junior Tai Dinger rounded out Stanford’s top five scorers. In respective order, Bolger, Parsons and Dinger placed 46th to 48th.
The women’s team also showcased a strong front three runners for the 6k course. Led by O’Keefe in 12th place, seniors Vanessa Fraser and Abbie McNulty followed closely in 18th and 38th, respectively.
“Even though it wasn’t an A-plus day, we always say if you’re not having a perfect day, have a solid day,” women’s coach Elizabeth Debole said. “Keep putting forth that effort, keep your head up, and keep moving forward. And that’s what they did.”
The women combined for 292 points, posting a 1:23.7 split between their first and fifth scorers. Despite a 40-second split between the first six Cardinals at the Bill Dellinger Invitational two weeks ago, Debole recognizes that “the goal, moving forward, is to learn from this [meet].”
Coach DeBole is confident that the team’s efforts this season will pay off when the postseason comes around, starting with the Pac-12 championships in two weeks. During practice, DeBole has noticed her runners’ motivation and dedication to improving the Cardinal’s performance from last year.
“We’ve come off a month of hard training, maybe the most consistent and best month of training in a while, and we really haven’t let up,” she said after the race.
Both the men and the women are scheduled to compete at the Pac-12 Championships on Friday, Oct. 27.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.