Paced by freshman Elise Cranny's runner-up finish, the Stanford women were second at the rainy Pac-12 Cross Country Championships at the Metropolitan Golf Links on Friday and the Cardinal men third.
Joe Rosa captured third individually for Stanford men, who placed among the top three for the 20th consecutive season.
Elise Cranny. Photo by Norbert von der Groeben/Isiphotos.com
Both were strong showings for a Cardinal team under coach Chris Miltenberg, especially considering that five conference men's teams are ranked among the nation's top 12, and five of the women's are in the top 22.
Cranny was outkicked by Arizona State's Shelby Houlihan, the reigning NCAA outdoor 1,500-meter champ, over the final 800. However, Cranny led a Cardinal charge of six among the top 27 to improve upon last year's fifth-place team finish.
Cranny ran 20:04 over the 6-kilometer (3.73-mile) course, just behind Houlihan's 19:59. Stanford scored 74 points to finish behind only Oregon (54) and just ahead of third-place Colorado (82) and fourth-place Washington (93).
In hindsight, Cranny felt she could have done better covering Houlihan's move.
"I was really disappointed I let her go for a split second," Cranny said. "When even a tiny gap opens up, it's really hard to close that. I feel like once I commit to going and kind of stay there, then it becomes easier than looking up and seeing the gap getting bigger."
This marks the third consecutive season that a Stanford woman has placed in the top two.
Kathy Kroeger and Aisling Cuffe won the individual crowns the past two years, and now Cranny seems the heir apparent, though Cuffe will return next season after an injury redshirt season. Cuffe was more than happy to stride along the course and cheer on her teammates Friday.
"To think we were that close to winning without Aisling and with such a young team, it's awesome," Miltenberg said. "We're making awesome progress. The thing I'm most proud of is they're starting to believe in themselves more and more. And they'll continue to get better over the next few weeks."
Going into the season, Cranny never set a specific goal of a certain place.
"I used to do that more," Cranny said. "Coach Milt is more about the process and less about, 'This race, we need to be here,' and more about improving week to week. That's actually helped me and made it more fun instead of being so focused on getting a certain place.
"This is all a process and a buildup to not only nationals, but to the rest of the season and the rest of my collegiate career."
The Cardinal women placed all five scorers in front of Colorado's No. 4 and its young team -- which included four true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, two sophomores, a junior, and a senior -- responded to the challenge.
Emma Fisher and senior Molly McNamara ran together for the Nos. 2 and 3 spots, finishing 13th and 14th, both in 20:34. Sophie Chase (22nd), Rebecca Mehra (25th), and Vanessa Fraser (27th) were next, all within seven seconds of each other.
Of Stanford's three runners to return to the conference meet, Chase improved by 41 places, McNamara by 40, and Mehra by eight.
Rosa ran 23:37 over the men's 8K (4.97-mile) course, trailing only Edward Cheserek (23:23) and Eric Jenkins (23:37) of Oregon. The Cardinal (60 points) nearly captured second, only for Oregon (57 points) to take that spot behind Colorado (30), which placed all five scorers in the fourth through eighth spots.
Rosa took a few days off recently to rest a minor injury, but kept his confidence.
He moved into the lead at 6K, only for Cheserek, his onetime running buddy from New Jersey and the defending NCAA champion, to burst ahead and take a commanding lead at exactly the moment a heavy rain began to pound.
"Coach always preaches is it doesn't really matter what you've done reading up to the race, be confident in the moment," Rosa said. "It was trying to set the example that things don't have to work perfectly for you to have a good race.
"I was happy with the way I ran. I never look, at the end of the race, but look at it in terms of the effort I gave, and I feel I gave it a good effort."
This was the first race with Stanford's strongest men lineup (though 2013 Pac-12 runner-up Jim Rosa is taking an injury redshirt season). Sophomore Sean McGorty made his season debut and placed a strong 13th (24:03), as Stanford's No. 3 runner behind Maksim Korolev (ninth, 23:56).
"A huge step forward in terms of team racing," Miltenberg said. "It was not Maks' best day, but he gutted it out and ran a really solid team race. That's what we talk about all the time, building a culture and mindset where it's not about running a great individual performance or bust, it's great team racing all the time."
The team aspect was vital for Korolev, who felt himself dropping back midway through the race, but grinded out a top-10 finish because he didn't want to let down his teammates.
"The only thing that pushed me here was to try to minimize the points for the team, that was the only thing," Korolev said. "Otherwise, you don't have any other motivation. You're by yourself."
Said Rosa, "What Maks did today is indicative of what we're all trying to do. Just when you're not having your best day, you've got to think about the other guys you're running for. He's one of the best guys in the country. Today wasn't his day, but he still fought real tough and put himself out there."
And Atchoo did his part to get Stanford close to second place by passing two Oregon runners in the final yards.
McGorty ran aggressively, staying near the front for most of the race before fading slightly. He is returning from an injury last spring and will not run at the NCAA Regionals at Stanford Golf Course on Nov. 14 as a precaution, but will run at full strength for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 22.
"He knows he hasn't had perfect training the past three months, but he doesn't care," Miltenberg said. "He's thinking, 'How can I be the best team guy today?' That's why he's a great individual, because he thinks that way."
Added Rosa, "I'm really excited about how Sean's been running. He's really on an upwards trajectory. He's going to be right on me and Maks, I know that."