The 2009 cross-country season may go down in history as one of the worst in Stanford history, based on the combined effort of the Cardinal men's and women's teams at the NCAA Championships.
Despite being ranked No. 1 most of the '09 season, the Stanford men finished 10th at the collegiate nationals in Terra Haute, Ind., while the Cardinal women struggled to 16th.
Before last season, the worst combined effort by Stanford teams came in 1995 when the men were fifth and the women ninth.
During the past 16 years, however, the Stanford women have won five NCAA titles and the men four while both teams rarely finished out of the top five.
So, 2009 has to be viewed as one of those odd seasons when things fell apart at the wrong time. The good news is that both Stanford appear ready to make runs at No. 1 once again.
In fact, the Stanford men will begin the season as the No. 1 squad in the nation after the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Association announced its preseason poll this week. The Cardinal received 349 points, 10 more than defending national champion, No. 2 Oklahoma State.
The Cardinal earned four of 12 first-place votes, with Oklahoma State earning seven and Northern Arizona getting one. NAU and Oregon each had 329 points overall and are tied as the preseason No. 3 team.
The Cardinal return six of its seven runners that ran at last year's NCAA meet, including All-Americans (in cross country) Chris Derrick and Elliott Heath. In addition, others include Brendan Gregg, Benjamin Johnson and Miles Unterreiner, and Justin Marpole-Bird plus 2010 track standouts Jacob Riley (All-America honors in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters) and J.T. Sullivan (fourth in the steeplechase).
Stanford will be looking to win its first NCAA title in men's cross country since 2003. Should that happen, the title will be the 100th national crown in school history.
On the women's side, Stanford is ranked No. 12 preseason by the USTFCCCA. The Cardinal earned 217 points, while defending champion Villanova earned the top ranking with 360, including all 12 first-place votes. Other Pac-10 teams in the top 10 are Washington at No. 3 and Oregon at No. 6.
The Cardinal also returns nearly all of last year's team that was third in the West Regional and advanced to the NCAA Championships. Stephanie Marcy and Kathy Kroeger return after All-America track seasons and Alexandra Gits has shown the health that made her an All-American her freshman season. Also returning is breakout freshman Alex Dunne and veterans Georgia Griffin, Emilie Amaro and Madeline Duhon.
Stanford opens the season this weekend with a small meet in Reno, Nevada. The Cardinal will likely run just five each race at the Jim Vanden Heuvel Twilight Invitational on Friday under the lights for a rare evening cross country meet.