Five Stanford men finished among the top 39, all earning All-America honors, to give the Cardinal a stunning runner-up finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday.
Stanford scored 98 points, trailing only Colorado's 65, to earn its highest finish since winning the 2003 title. The Cardinal was ranked No. 9 entering the race.
His teammates excelled behind him, with Sean McGorty in 20th, Michael Atchoo in 29th, Joe Rosa in 33rd, and Sam Wharton in 39th. They all earned All-America honors for the first time in cross country.
In the women's race, Elise Cranny finished as the top freshman in the country, placing 12th over the 6-kilometer course in 20:17.0. She was Stanford's highest women's freshman finisher since 1999, when Lauren Fleshman was fifth. Stanford, with five freshmen in eligibility, finished 14th with 415 points.
For the Cardinal men, it marked a big turnaround after struggling to 19th and 16th place finishes the previous two years.
"We're thrilled," Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg told Flotrack.org. "We felt in these last two years we hadn't executed great team cross country and we've talked about it since the summer. We wanted to just run a great team race. Really scrap it out and not worry about individual places. I couldn't be more proud of these guys."
The differences between Saturday and the 2013 NCAA race were huge: McGorty improved 141 places, Atchoo improved 71, Rosa improved 79 places since his last nationals (in 2012), and Garrett Sweatt, who fell and lost a shoe, finished in 68th and improved 128 places.
Jack Keelan, a redshirt freshman, was 100th in his first NCAA meet. And redshirt freshman Wharton was incredibly 39th after placing 40th at the West Regional eight days earlier.
Last year, three Stanford runners placed in the top 100 on the way to placing 19th as a team with 417 points. This year, all seven made the top 100 and the team improved by 319 points and 17 places.
McGorty injured his back in the spring and was running as little as 15 miles a week in August. With Jim Rosa, the fifth-place NCAA finisher in 2013, out for the season, Miltenberg was questioned by some as to why he didn't redshirt McGorty and regroup for next season.
"He trusts me and he trusts the process," Miltenberg said.
As was the plan, McGorty ran only once before NCAA's as he trained through the season for the sole purpose of being ready for nationals, and the plan worked.
Korolev arrived as a grad student in management science and engineering, having placed third at NCAA's last year while running for Harvard. However, the Ivy League does not allow for a fifth season of eligibility and Korolev sought out Miltenberg for his final collegiate season.
"We weren't going to take him without feeling that he was going to be a great fit," Miltenberg said. "And he fit in right away. He's super passionate and super intense and he raised the bar a lot for this team."
Korolev and Rosa ran in the lead pack until Cheserek broke away at 8K. While Korolev stayed with the remaining group, Rosa faded over the final mile, but still earned his first cross country All-America honor, as did three of his teammates McGorty, Atchoo, and Wharton.
"I had no real goals, just to run controlled and run as well as I could for my team," McGorty said to Flotrack. "I really think the fourth through seventh really sealed the deal. That's one thing we really emphasize, that in any race, it could be anyone's day."
Rosa, the third-place finisher at the Pac-12 Championships, counted on a top-10 finish, but instead finished as Stanford's No. 4 runner. Still, he was ecstatic after the race.
"These guys are amazing," Rosa said. "They pulled the team through."
The Stanford women got a strong race from redshirt freshman Emma Fisher, who placed 75th as the Cardinal's No. 2, with Sophie Chase next in 136th, Vanessa Fraser in 149th, Molly McNamara in 170th, Claire Howlett in 184th, and Abbie McNulty in 199th.
All of Stanford's top seven women return and they will be joined by Aisling Cuffe, the 2013 Pac-12 champion and NCAA fourth-place finisher, who is redshirting.
The men return Joe Rosa and Jim Rosa and lose Korolev and Atchoo. However, they also gain two of the top recruits in the country: Foot Locker national champion Grant Fisher and 5,000-meter star Alex Ostberg, who signed national letters of intent last week.