Stanford cross country competed at the NCAA West Regionals on Friday at Chambers Creek Regional Park in University Park, Wash. The West Regional is among nine regional championships where the top two teams per gender at each meet automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. After a solid performance in the Pac-12 Championships, where the men’s team placed first and the women placed fourth, both traveled to Seattle with the same goal: come back with a ticket to the final.
The Women’s Race
The day opened with the six-kilometer (3.73-mile) women’s race. The challenge for the women’s team was as tough as any. Women’s head coach and director of Track and Field and Cross Country J.J. Clark and assistant coach Addy Royal had a difficult puzzle to solve at the beginning of the season. They had a talented yet young group of athletes in their hands. Experienced runners, such as Ella Donaghu ’21 and Julia Heymach ’21, who both were West Region champions, left the team in back-to-back years.
Only junior Zofia Dudek, junior Lucy Jenks and sophomore Audrey Suarez had seen action in Regionals in the past. To make matters worse, the pace was fast, which can throw inexperienced athletes off. Nevertheless, Clark’s experience trickled down to the team. He kept emphasizing taking one step at a time.
“The strategy was to get to nationals and worry about the NCAA’s later,” Clark said post-race. The Cardinal took it to heart, focused only on the task in hand and led the race from start to finish, winning the West Regional for a third straight time and advancing to the NCAA’s for a 30th consecutive season.
Dudek kept up with the fast pace, was always in the front pack and earned a remarkable third place in 19:25.1. Her podium finish was her highest since winning the Sacramento State Invitational on Oct. 1, 2021. Although no other runner finished in the top-10, Stanford proved that in cross-country, individuals earn accolades, but as a team, you are as good as your fifth runner.
Junior Lucy Jenks was 15th (19:42.0), sophomores Audrey DaDamio 18th (19:44.3) and Audrey Suarez 19th (19:46.2) and freshman Riley Stewart 21st (19.47.2). They literally ran as a pack and Stanford never abolished the lead.
“Learning how to feed off each other was critical. They packed up and ran well today as a group.”, coach Clark added. Even Stanford’s sixth runner, Abi Archer, was in the pack. She placed 25th in 19:54.7, while freshman Ava Parekh was 54th in 20:22.6.
The Men’s Race
Up next, was the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) men’s race. For the incumbent and back-to-back Pac-12 Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year, Ricardo Santos, energy conservation was as important as punching the ticket for the NCAA final. Stanford is ranked No. 1 in the nation for a reason. It passed both tests with flying colors.
Although junior Cole Sprout, who was a podium finisher in the Pac-12 final, did not compete, the team was nothing but dominant. It took the lead from the gun and never looked back. Stanford pulled ahead of Gonzaga, 45-92, for first.
Halfway through the race, the Cardinal had a lead of almost 40 places which they extended to 50 with one kilometer to go. At that point, senior Charles Hicks was in front. Although the back-to-back Pac-12 champion is known for his kick down the stretch, what actually kicked in this time was his experience.
Knowing that the team had secured first place, taking the foot off the pedal to preserve energy for the upcoming national title race was more important than finishing first. He placed third in 28:22.6. First finished was Washington’s Fay in 28:17.2 and second was Oregon’s Bielefeld in 28:19.5, both of whom gave it all knowing that this might be the last race of their cross-country season.
Fifth-year Meika Beaudoin-Rousseau proved that his stellar fifth place in the Pac-12 Championships was not by accident. He finished sixth, running 28:26.4, and crossed the finish line just 0.1 seconds behind junior Ky Robinson. Stanford’s elite long-distance runner from Australia took fifth in 28:26.3. The duo had good company, Devin Hart, the senior from New Jersey known for his work ethic, finished eighth in 28:29.0. Senior Thomas Boyden was Stanford’s fifth runner crossing the line and 23rd overall in 28.57.2.
Although the task was accomplished, Evan Burke was the icing on the cake. The Canadian senior finished 25th in 29:03.8 despite an injury that he was battling earlier this year. Redshirt freshman Robert DiDonato finished 34th in 29.16.1, just one place behind Gonzaga’s fifth athlete. Stanford men’s cross country is heading to the NCAA’s for the 29th consecutive time.
“For today, we just wanted to get one of the two automatic qualifying spots without going to the well too much,” men’s coach Santos said after the race. “It’s a quick turnaround for nationals, so we wanted to get the job done without exerting a ton of energy. The break is short, so the focus now will be on recovery as we get ready for nationals.”
Stanford cross-country will head to Stillwater, Okla. on Saturday, Nov. 19, to compete at the 2022 NCAA Cross Country Championship. The NCAA finals will be streamed live on ESPNU beginning at 7 a.m. PT. The day will open with the women’s 6K race at 7:20 a.m. PT.
It is no secret that Stanford does not come in as a favorite. Participating in the final race of the year after winning in the Regionals with such a young roster is already a remarkable achievement. Everything from now on is a bonus.
Please make no mistake, the two-time USTFCCCA National Coach of the Year, two-time Pac-12 Cross Country Coach of the Year J.J. Clark, and his talented assistant coach Addy Royal, who knows firsthand what competing at the highest level means, will get the team ready to leave it all out there.
The men’s 10K race will begin at 9:10 a.m PT. Stanford men’s cross country will enter the final as the favorite to win and rightfully so. The nation’s No. 1 ranked team has dominated every race so far, finishing second only once back in September.
Nevertheless, the Cardinal will face the strongest competition in the closing race of the season. They will battle it out primarily against BYU, Northern Arizona, Oklahoma State and Air Force.