Stanford cross-country coach Chris Miltenberg can see better days ahead. That's because the present looks a lot better now than it did just a few weeks ago.
Miltenberg, named NCAA Division I Cross Country West Region Men's Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches, brings his women's and men's teams to the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind., in what many considered a rebuilding year.
"It was different for both teams," Miltenberg said. "The men were starting to make progress. They decided to control their own destiny. As the lead runners began to dwindle down, we still had our No. 4 runner ahead of some of the other No. 5 runners."
Miltenberg, in his second season, guided Stanford to victory at the NCAA West Regional in Sacramento last week.
Miltenberg also coached the Stanford women into the NCAA's. The Cardinal was second at the NCAA West Region and are ranked No. 12. This marks the 20th consecutive season that both the Stanford men and women will compete as a team in the national championships.
"With the women, we have two great runners up front we can depend on," he said. "Runners 3 through 11 are all about equal and we needed a great effort from five runners on the same day for a great result."
In addition to Miltenberg's honor, seven Stanford runners were named to the All-West Region team -- Michael Atchoo, Sean McGorty, Erik Olson, Jim Rosa, Aisling Cuffe, Megan Lacy and Jessica Tonn.
Cuffe has been an elite runner from early on and Miltenberg calls her "innately competitive. She's soft-spoken and unassuming and she loves to compete. The national race is like her birthday or Christmas. She can't wait to get out there and race."
Cuffe had impressive credentials while at Cornwall Central HS in New York. She won national cross country championships at FootLocker and junior nationals during the 2010-11 school year, and set a junior national two-mile record of 9:54.22. As a Stanford freshman, she twice broke the U.S. junior indoor record for 3,000 meters, finally at 9:07.79.
The Stanford men enter the national meet with a No. 4 national ranking after being ranked a low as No. 29 midway through the season. However, fourth place at the Pre-Nationals, third in the Pac-12, and a regional championship have vaulted Stanford to contending status.
"We want to get back to a place where we take on a blue-collar mindset," Miltenberg said. "The program has had great success and there's an assumption it's always going to happen. The guys realize they have to earn that back."
Stanford was the only school to place three among the top 10 at regionals, led by Jim Rosa's runner-up finish. Also, Olson was third and Atchoo sixth. Rosa also was second at the Pac-12 championships.
"It's exciting. There are great crowds. Composure is everything," Miltenberg said of the national meet atmosphere. In the regional meet you can control what's going on. At the national meet you may be running the race knowing you're not going to win but still maintain the discipline to run your race. I've seen guys lose their composure. They don't know what place they are in, they can't see the lead group. It's about inner control."
The Stanford men last won an NCAA cross-country title in 2003, while the women won in 2007.