Sports

Top four cross country finishes for Stanford men and women

 
Both the men's and women's teams placed fourth at the NCAA cross country championships on Saturday. Photo by Spencer Allen/SportsImageWire.com

The Stanford men's and women's teams each placed fourth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, earning twin podium finishes for the first time since 2006.

Grant Fisher duplicated last year's fifth place finish, leading three Stanford runners into the top 17, with Alex Ostberg (16th) and Steven Fahy (17th) earning their first All-America honors, in cross country or track, by placing among the top 40.


Fiona O'Keefee

Grant Fisher
The Stanford men scored 221 points and placed among the top four for the fourth consecutive year.

Fisher, who ran 29:12.1 on the 10K course at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park, extends a Stanford streak of five consecutive years with a top-6 individual finish.

Northern Arizona (74 points) repeated as the team winner and Justyn Knight of Syracuse earned his first NCAA cross country title.

The Stanford women earned their highest placing since third in 2012. Fiona O'Keeffe paced the Cardinal in 13th and fifth-year senior Vanessa Fraser was 27th. It was their highest finishes in this meet.

Stanford placed its top five in the top 70 while scoring 165. Individual winner Ednah Kurgat led New Mexico (90 points) to the team crown.

No other school had two teams on the podium or had two in the top seven.

"This speaks to the culture that our men and our women have built together, that we can be solid every time we're out here," said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's Director of Track and Field. "The men didn't hit a home run, but ran really solid and that's what you have to do to get on the podium. If you can do that year after year after year, eventually we're going to win one."

The Cardinal men started at almost the extreme right side of the field and after about 200 yards, the narrowing space nearly forced them into a fence.

A runner in front tripped and two Stanford runners, Alek Parsons and Blair Hurlock went down, though they were able to get back up quickly, a spike wound to Parsons notwithstanding.

Fisher was 33rd after 2K and 21st at 4K. However, the deficit became too great to make up. Northern Arizona's Matthew Baxter and Tyler Day took the lead early and held it until Knight surged past on the homestretch to win. Fisher moved up to the second pack, but the gap was too great to attempt to bridge the distance on his own.

Instead, Fisher evaluated the situation and decided to hold his position to help the team and then push it near the finish. He didn't want to risk trying to catch the lead group and blowing up, which could cause him to drop back considerably and lose points.

"I didn't end up winning the matchups that I'd hoped, but I wanted to be a reliable finish for my team," Fisher said. "The gap did open up a little bigger than I'd hoped. I knew if I tried to close it down by myself and fighting the wind out there might have dropped me back.

"I wanted not to take a big risk and do what I could for my team. They were depending on me to get top 10. Mixed emotions for how I handled the matchups, but we're on the podium. In August, a lot of people thought podium would be a stretch for us. But we're happy to be back."

Also consider that Stanford returns its entire seven-man NCAA lineup, though it loses Sam Wharton and Jack Keelan, mainstays who were not at full strength at the time of this race.

The Cardinal women will lose Fraser and senior Abbie McNulty, but there seems to be a feeling that this team will contend for more championships in the coming years.

The rest of the lineup consisted of three sophomores, including O'Keeffe, a freshman and junior Elise Cranny, one of the nation's best runners who is returning to form.

With the addition of freshman Nevada Mareno, who is redshirting, and a strong recruiting class, the future looks bright.

"We ran great," said Stanford women's coach Elizabeth DeBole. "We felt like on a great day we could win, but we could also finish seventh. We knew we could only control us.

"We said we were going to own that back 2K and be really tough back there. I think all of them moved up back there. We executed really well. It was a good day."

Two years ago, Stanford was 14th. Last year, the Cardinal moved up to seventh. This seems like a natural progression.

"We're such a better team than we were last year," DeBole said. "We're getting better every day. Next year, we lose Vanessa and Abbie, but they've definitely left the program better than what they found it. We're just going to keep getting better."

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