Great individual cross country race decided by two steps

Grant Fisher finished second to Syracuse's Justyn Knight (right) on Friday. Photo courtesy of Aaron Shepley and Stanford Athletics.

Two of collegiate cross-country's premier racers dueled in a sprint for the victory at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Friday, with Stanford's Grant Fisher edged by Syracuse's Justyn Knight.

With five among the top 50, the Stanford men placed fourth among 35 teams, 20 of which were ranked, on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course.

Fiona O'Keefe
The Cardinal women, paced by Fiona O'Keeffe in 12th, placed eighth.

Fisher and Knight have raced five times, with Knight holding a 3-2 lead. All of Knight's victories have come in cross country and Fisher's were on the track, including at the NCAA Championships in June when Fisher was first and Knight third in the 5,000 meters.

"The whole mentality in cross country is different than track, because you're running for a team," Fisher said. "Justyn is a really good runner, but my race plan was about being in the right spots, as was his. Justyn was the better runner today."

Fisher, in his season debut, and teammate Alex Ostberg remained patient, letting others contend for the lead in their 8-kilometer (4.97-mile) race.

"We worked really well together," Fisher said. "We were definitely building off the other's momentum."

Fisher's strategy was: "When the pack was 50, I wanted to be in the back," he said. "When it was 15, I wanted to be 10th. And when it was five, I wanted to be third or fourth."

With a little more than two kilometers to go, UCLA's Robert Brandt burst into the front. He created a small gap, but soon was reeled in by a pack of Fisher, Knight, and Northern Arizona's Andy Trouard and Tyler Day.

With NAU runners leading with about 400 meters to go, Fisher made his move and Knight responded quickly. Knight overtook Fisher, though, for a moment, Fisher looked like he might pull off a successful counter-move. But Knight held him off to the finish line by two steps.

"I've always respected Grant," said Knight to Flotrack. "He's a fantastic race. I knew that Grant is a guy you can't take your eyes off of."

Ostberg placed 12th in proving that he is in the best shape of his life. The redshirt sophomore was sixth at Oregon's Dellinger Invitational two weeks ago and first for Stanford.

Callum Bolger, Alek Parsons, and Tai Dinger finished together, in 46th to 48th. Steven Fahy, in 65th, was seven seconds back.

The Cardinal women, led by O'Keeffe, Vanessa Fraser in 18th and Abbie McNulty in 38th on the 6-kilometer (3.73 mile) course, had an up-and-down day.

"Even though it wasn't an A-plus, we always say if you're not having a perfect day, have a solid day," said STanford women's coach Elizabeth DeBole. "Just keep putting forth that effort, keep your head up, and keep moving forward. And that's what they did."

Stanford is transitioning from a hard month of training, full of high-volume mileage and strength work.

Because of the nature of collegiate cross country, the regular season consists of one or two serious races and then it's time for the postseason.

That's where Stanford finds itself as it next looks toward to the Pac-12 Championships on Oct. 27 in Springfield, Oregon.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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