Stanford sophomore Chris Derrick figures to be pretty familiar with the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind., by now.
He's run the course quite a few times, including as a high school senior. He'll be looking to establish personal bests to go with the Cardinal team goal of winning a national title when the final race commences on the dedicated cross-country course on Monday morning.
Derrick is one of the favorites (with, among others, Oklahoma State's German Fernandez) to win the individual title, but he'd be much happier if Stanford took the team title and his finish didn't matter, except for scoring purposes.
"That would define the season," Derrick said. "It's what we've been talking about and working toward all year."
The Cardinal women don't carry the same expectations this year despite a storied history that includes winning four of the past six national titles.
Laurynne Chetelat, one of the nation's top distance runners, left Stanford after one year. The Athletic and Academic All-American, who attended Davis High, is reportedly headed for California.
Derrick was seventh in the individual race and Stanford placed third in last year's championship. The four-time All-American (in track and cross country combined) said there's a difference working toward a team goal rather than an individual goal.
"You help the team by scoring as low as you can," he said. "But if I were running an individual race I would want to go out fast and stay there. I'm running for the team, though, and we'll work through the pack together."
It was a strategy that worked at the NCAA West Regional last weekend, in which top-ranked Stanford had five runners in the lead pack for most of the race before Derrick and Elliott Heath broke free to finish first and second, respectively.
Derrick was named USA Track & Field's Athlete of the Week for his effort. The American junior recordholder (in track) in the 5,000 meters, Derrick won the 10,000-meter race in 30 minutes 38.84 seconds at the West Regional to remain undefeated on the season.
Justin Marpole-Bird finished third at the regional, despite running in his first competitive 10,000 race. Brendan Gregg, Miles Unterreiner, Benjamin Johnson and J.T. Sullivan also competed for the Cardinal. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Riley likely will run in the championship, perhaps giving Stanford an edge in depth.
"The sixth and seventh runners matter," Derrick said. "Our strength is our depth. At the NCAAs, crazy things happen all the time and it's nice to have those stopgap six and seven guys. This race is going to be close, and if we can get our sixth man ahead of somebody's fifth man that could make all the difference."
Oklahoma State, Portland, Oregon and Colorado all figure to compete for the top spot. The Ducks are the defending national champions.
Second-year coach Jason Dunn, who was at Virginia the previous eight years, hopes to lead the Stanford men to their first national title since 2003. The Cardinal have won four NCAA titles overall, in 1996-97 and also in 2002.
What Derrick likes about the course in Terre Haute, is the gradual ascent and the wide lanes.
"It's all fenced in, with one big loop and three inner loops," he said. "It goes downhill quickly but there are no killer hills. It builds up gradually. It's pretty fair and it's easy to pass."
He'd prefer that it not rain but if it does he'll be ready.
"I do better than I used to," Derrick said. "A lot of it is mental."
Derrick has yet to run a marathon because he's focused on his college years and cross country and track.
"It would take a lot of work and if I were to run a marathon. I would want to give it the necessary attention and do it right," he said.
Derrick earned the Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award after helping Neuqua Valley High School in Illinois to a national team championship with his first-place finish at the Nike Team Nationals. He finished second at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, running 13:55.96 over the 5,000-meter course, the fastest time ever in an all-high school race.
Internationally, Derrick placed 15th at this year's Junior World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan, and was second at the USA Junior Cross Country Championships with an 8,000 meter time of 23:39.
The Stanford women, meanwhile, have plenty of quality runners with the likes of seniors Kate Niehaus and Maddie O'Meara and junior Alexandra Gits. The problem is in their depth and experience.
Niehaus and O'Meara are Stanford's only seniors in the race, so the majority of runners Monday will be sophomores or freshmen.
The goal is to finish better than its' eighth-place showing of a year ago. Stanford finished third at the West Regional. Defending national champion Washington is again the clear favorite.
Other women runners should include sophomores Madeline Duhon, Stephanie Marcy and Georgia Griffin. Freshman Emma Miller-Bedell will likely be the seventh runner, although Stanford has several others from which to choose.