The week-long early signing period began with a bang for Stanford track and field, with the decision and addition of defending Foot Locker national cross country champion Grant Fisher. It ended Wednesday with similar effect, with the commitment and signing of Canadian distance standout Claire Smith.
Overall, the Cardinal signed a strong group of nine that included two other national high school No. 1's besides Fisher -- Alex Ostberg in the 5,000 and Kaitlyn Merritt in the pole vault. Fisher is the nation's top prep in the mile and two-mile and figures to battle Ostberg for national cross country supremacy Dec. 13 at the Foot Locker nationals in San Diego.
The class, which will expand with a later signing period, consists of three men and six women. The men's class: Grant Fisher (Grand Blanc, Mich.), Will Lauer (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Alex Ostberg (Darien, Conn.). The women's class: Hannah Long (Pacific, Mo.), Jackie McNulty (Frederick, Md.), Kaitlyn Merritt (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.), Catherine Pagano (Allendale, N.J.), Claire Smith (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), Nicole Summersett (Austin, Texas).
"We wanted to target a small high-caliber group," said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's director of track and field. "We were not looking to fill spots, we were looking to find the best fits in academics and athletics. Our approach is fairly unique. We want to be really connected to every one of our athletes."
All three men are distance runners and three of the women are pole vaulters.
"This is an exciting group that Mike is putting together," Miltenberg said of Mike Eskind, Stanford's pole vault, multis, and jumps coach.
The following is a closer look at each individual:
Grant Fisher (Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc HS):
Fisher is the defending Foot Locker national cross country champion and in December will attempt to become Michigan's first back-to-back boys' national champion since Dathan Ritzenheim, and fifth overall, to accomplish the feat. Fisher won the 2013 Foot Locker meet in 15:07 for 5K. Fisher, who won his second consecutive Michigan Division I cross country championship earlier this month in 14:52.5, was the most sought-after distance running recruit in the country after posting times of 4:02.02 at New York City's Dream Mile and 8:51.28 at the Brooks PR Invitational two mile in Renton, Wash., last spring. Both were victories against strong competition.
Fisher has won five state championships overall, including two at 3,200 and one at 1,600. He also is an outstanding soccer player and has been selected for Olympic Development Program teams. College will offer Fisher the opportunity to concentrate on one sport.
"As much as he has accomplished, he has incredible potential to develop into one of the best in the country at the NCAA level," Miltenberg said. "He's played soccer for so long, now he'll get a chance to really focus on running full-time. He's been coached well, and always with a long-term view. There is enormous room for growth."
Will Lauer (Sioux Falls, S.D./Lincoln HS): Lauer is the 2014 South Dakota Class AA cross country champion, running 15:13.20 on Oct. 25 for 5K, and led the Patriots to their third consecutive state championship. Lauer, who owns a 3,200 best of 9:05.50, was second at the Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Regional on Nov. 9 in a personal record 15:07.5. Last spring, he won the Howard Wood Dakota Relays 3,200 in 9:07.57, breaking a 30-year old meet record held by Olympian Rod DeHaven. Lauer intends to major in engineering or physics.
Alex Ostberg (Darien, Conn./Darien HS): Ostberg ran the fastest prep 5,000 in the nation last year when he clocked 14:16.61 to win the New Balance Outdoor Nationals by 13 seconds. Ostberg also enters the track season No. 5 among high school runners in the two-mile at 8:55.73, converted from an 8:52.64 for 3,200, which at the time was a 17-second improvement. Ostberg was 11th at the Foot Locker cross country nationals in 2013 and this year has won the New England Championships and Massachusetts State Open, the latter in a course record 14:58 for 5K.
Ostberg also is a junior emergency medical technician, earning certification with 140 hours of course work and exams. His twin brother, Nicolai, also is a junior EMT, and each are on call for about five 24-hour shifts each month.
On his decision to attend Stanford, Ostberg told MileSplit.com: "I got the sense that if I chose Stanford I could unlock my full potential as a student-athlete … If you are a strong student and an elite runner, there aren't many places to look beyond Stanford that offer that same blend of academics and athletics."
Hannah Long (Pacific, Mo./Eureka HS): Long is No. 4 in the nation in the mile with a state-record 4:44.01 that she achieved while placing fourth in New York City's Dream Mile against a national-class field. Long captured five Missouri state championships last year alone, including four at the two-day Class 4 track and field championships. She swept the 800 (2:10.78), 1600 (4:46.21) and 3200 (10:34.26) while also anchoring the 4x800 relay with a come-from-behind 2:09 split. Long is a three-time state Class 4 cross country champion -- setting a Class 4 state record of 17:38 for 5K on Nov. 8 -- and has won eight state titles in all. Long has an 800 best of 2:09.03, making her No. 13 in the nation in that event, and has run the 3,200 in 10:20.65. She also is a two-time Foot Locker national cross country finalist, finishing 10th as a sophomore and 23rd as a junior.
Jackie McNulty (Frederick, Md./Oakdale HS): McNulty won three Maryland state 2A championships last spring, capturing titles in the pole vault (11-6), long jump (17-6 1/2), and triple jump (38-5 1/4). McNulty has won five state titles overall, including two each in the pole vault and triple jump. Her bests are 39-3 1/4 in the triple, 12-9 in the pole vault and 17-8 1/2 in the long jump. McNulty was a four-event qualifier for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals and won the meet's Emerging Elite pole vault title. McNulty's athletic talents span to gymnastics and diving. She was the Frederick County Diver of the Year in 2012 and has been a state and regional champion in gymnastics. Earlier this year, she was named Frederick County's Female Athlete of the Year.
Kaitlyn Merritt (Trabuco Canyon/Santa Margarita Catholic HS): Merritt won the 2013 California state pole vault championship as a sophomore and this year has the No. 1 returning high school mark in the country, at 14-0 3/4. Merritt set national freshman (13-3) and sophomore (13-8) class records and vaulted 14-0 ¾ as a junior. Merritt was named Orange County Female Athlete of the Year in 2013, during which she also won the Trinity League title in the 100 meters. Merritt, who anticipates majoring in human biology, is a Stanford legacy. Her parents, Andrew and Michele, attended Stanford, as did her grandfather. Her brother and cousin are current Stanford students.
Catherine Pagano (Allendale, N.J./Northern Highlands HS): Through the New Jersey North 1 Sectionals last week, Pagano has gone undefeated during the cross country season. This followed a stellar effort last spring when she returned from an injury midway through the track season and rallied her Northern Highlands distance medley relay team from 11th to third at the Penn Relays on her 1,600 anchor leg, as the team set a school record. Pagano went on to place fifth in the mile (4:48.13) at the New Balance Nationals, third in the 800 (2:08.75) at the New Jersey Meet of Champions, and first in the 3,200 (10:34.60) at the Bergen County Meet of Champions. Pagano also placed fourth in the 1,500 at the U.S. junior nationals. Pagano is the No. 10 800 runner in the country.
On her Stanford decision, Pagano told the Bergen (N.J.) Record, "I believe it offers me the best way to grow as a person and a runner."
Claire Smith (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Glebe Collegiate Institute): Smith broke the Ottawa provincial record in the 5,000 on her 17th birthday, running 16:31.88 at a twilight meet June 11. This came just days after setting a Canadian youth record of 9:35.39 in winning the Ontario secondary school title in the 3,000 and finishing second in the province in the 1,500 (4:28.53). Smith helped Canada to the junior title at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Cross Country Championships in Trinidad earlier this year, winning the individual bronze medal. She was fourth at the Canadian junior cross country championships last season and fifth in the junior national track meet in the 3,000.
Nicole Summersett (Austin, Texas/Westlake HS): Summersett is the No. 6 high school vaulter in the country and No. 1 in Texas, with a best of 13-3 1/2. She is a three-time state 5A qualifier and a two-time 5A Region 2 champion and holds 5A District 15 and 5A Area 15/16 records. She achieved her best mark while finishing third at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. Summersett is following the footsteps of her father, Bob, who also was a vaulter, at Texas. Summersett anticipates majoring in computer science.