The Stanford cross-country teams will put their best runners on the starting line Friday at the high-powered Wisconsin Invitational. The meet is among the two major invitationals -- along with the Pre-Nationals in Terra Haute, Ind. -- providing NCAA-championship caliber competition in advance of the postseason.
The Cardinal men will wait until the Pac-12 Championships to run Sean McGorty, but otherwise this will be a close proximity to the top seven for both the men and the women. All-America Aisling Cuffe, who is nursing an injury, will not be competing in Wisconsin, but has not been ruled out for a return by nationals. However, All-America Jim Rosa is out for the season with an injury, but will return for a fifth year.
No. 6 Stanford is among 22 women's teams in the USTFCCCA national Top 30 rankings - and among six in the top 10 -- competing in Wisconsin. No. 2 Michigan State, coming off a victory at the Roy Griak Invitational, is regarded as the favorite, with No. 5 Arkansas, led by Dominique Scott, the runner who denied the Cardinal victory in the 2014 NCAA indoor distance medley relay, also among the contenders.
Among the top individual contenders are Arizona State's Shelby Houlihan, the 2014 NCAA outdoor 1,500 champ with great range, reigning NCAA 10,000 champ Emma Bates of Boise State, and Florida State's Colleen Quigley, sixth at the 2013 NCAA cross country finals.
Stanford will field essentially the same team that narrowly finished second to No. 3 Oregon at the Washington Invitational, plus Molly McNamara and Vanessa Fraser, who raced at the Stanford Invitational instead. Cranny made a scintillating collegiate debut in Seattle, winning the race by seven seconds, in 20:11. She leads a young nine-runner team that includes four true freshmen and three sophomores who are freshmen in eligibility, plus one junior and one senior (McNamara).
For the men, No. 7 Stanford joins a loaded field that includes six top-10 teams and 19 among the USTFCCCA Top 30. No. 3 Northern Arizona, the Washington Invitational champ, tops the field, with No. 5 Portland, a contender at the NCAA West Regional at Stanford on Nov. 14, running its 'A' team for the first time. No. 6 UCLA also will bear watching, not just in Wisconsin, but at the Stanford Regional.
Stanford's Maksim Korolev is the top returning NCAA finisher in the field, having placed third last year in Terre Haute. But Northern Arizona's Futsum Zienasellassie and Arkansas' Stanley Kebenei were fourth and sixth in the same race.
This race is an unveiling of sorts for No. 7 Stanford, with the addition of All-America Korolev from Harvard and a group of sophomores in their first seasons of eligibility, all running together for the first time. Stanford will need to prove it can compete without Jim Rosa, last year's NCAA fifth-place finisher who will use a medical redshirt. Joe Rosa, Stanford's No. 1 for most of the 2012 season before sitting out 2013 with an injury, will be racing in his first major meet in two years and is eager to show what he can do.
Stanford will become a member of the America East Conference beginning in 2015, as announced Thursday by the conference and head coach Tara Danielson.
Fellow NorPac Conference members California, Pacific and UC Davis also will join the America East.
The Cardinal has been a part of the NorPac Conference since 1982 and claimed 16 regular-season conference titles, including six of the past seven.
Despite each member of the America East Conference being from across the country, many members will be familiar opponents for Stanford, including 2014 opponents Albany, Maine and New Hampshire. The Cardinal also join conference teams Vermont and UMass Lowell.
The conference will be split in two divisions with Stanford, California, Pacific and UC Davis in the West Division, and the remaining teams in the East. The America East Field Hockey Championships will consist of eight teams, four teams from each division, with the 2015 tournament taking place on the east coast and the 2016 championship on the west coast.
The America East champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Stanford continues play against NorPac opponents over the next three weeks and will compete in its final NorPac Tournament Nov. 6-8 at Pacific.