Well ahead of the rest of the field, seniors Fiona O’Keeffe and Ella Donaghu along with junior Jess Lawson stormed into the finishing shoot at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships in Monmouth, Oregon on Friday morning. O’Keeffe finished first, claiming her first individual Pac-12 title, while Donaghu and Lawson followed in second and third, respectively, to complete a 1-2-3 Stanford finish and earn the women’s cross country team its first conference title since 2010.
“It’s special to have a conference championship,” head cross country coach J.J. Clark said. “To go 1-2-3 is historic.”
O’Keeffe ran nearly unchallenged for most of the race. The fifth-place finisher from last year’s conference championships has excelled as front runner for the Cardinal this year, running alone in the lead for most of Friday’s race. She traversed the 6-kilometer course at Ash Creek Preserve in 19:32.7, followed by Donaghu in 19:34.9 and Lawson in 19:38.1.
“I was just so happy when I turned around and saw Ella and Jess right there,” O’Keeffe said in a post-race Pac-12 Network interview. “It was so exciting.”
The Pac-12 is arguably the strongest conference this season with three teams in the nation’s top five. Despite the competition, the No. 2 Stanford women dominated the field with a near-perfect score of 27 points. No. 3 Washington finished second with 55 points, while No. 16 Utah scored 86 points, upsetting a No. 5 Colorado team that finished fourth with 89 points.
Juniors Jordan Oakes and Julia Heymach finished eighth and 13th, respectively, to round out the top five scorers for the Cardinal. Both juniors had significant improvements from last year’s conference championships, when Oakes placed 20th and Heymach in 26th to help the women finish third overall.
While Friday marked the first conference crown in nearly a decade for the Stanford women, it also marked Stanford’s lowest team score and first 1-2-3 performance since the 2006 conference championship when the Cardinal went 1-4 for 22 points. Later that season, Stanford went on to win its second of three consecutive national titles.
Friday was a particularly special day for O’Keeffe because of the jersey she wore. The last time she wore it was in early June at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas. She was competing for a national title in the 5,000 meters when she fell midway through the race. Despite the setback and consequential abrasions to her legs, she rallied back to a seventh-place finish, contributing crucial points in the team’s 10th overall finish at the championships.
“The last time I wore this jersey, actually, was that NCAA race,” she said. “Putting it back on was a little bit of an ‘Okay, we can do this’ moment.”
The conference title is the first under Clark and his assistant coach Ricardo Santos, who are both in their first year at the helm of the program.
“I compliment the team for being welcoming with open arms,” Clark said. “We were able to start moving in the right direction immediately. Winning is always exciting, but especially in your first year.”
On the men’s side, the Cardinal struggled to find the same success. Seniors Alex Ostberg and Thomas Ratcliffe finished fourth and sixth, respectively, to lead the No. 3 men’s team to a third-place finish.
The two-time defending conference champions were unable to find their third-straight title, but extended their streak of top-three conference finishes to 25 years. The Cardinal men combined for 69 points, falling to No. 3 Colorado (41 points) and No. 16 Oregon (57 points).
Ratcliffe surged to the lead in the final kilometer of the 8-kilometer race but faded to sixth as Colorado’s Joe Klecker pulled away with the victory. Ostberg crossed in 23:08.0 to secure his third consecutive top-four conference finish.
“The men are in great shape,” Clark said. “They had poor execution at 4K. They learned from it and will move on. Third is not horrible, but the feeling on the team is that we can do better. And they will.”
Sixth-year senior Steven Fahy was named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year before the race began. The veteran completed his undergraduate studies in human biology last spring with a 3.76 grade-point average.
Stanford will turn their efforts to the NCAA West Regionals on Nov. 15 in Colfax, Washington.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.