Sports

Cardinal men overcome adversity to place third at nationals

 

A Stanford men's cross-country team, so buried by adversity during mid-season when it dropped to No. 23 in the rankings, battled to a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

Three Stanford men placed among the top 17, including Jim Rosa and Sean McGorty in the top 10. It was the Cardinal men's 10th top-three NCAA finish and first in consecutive years since 2002-03.


Vanessa Fraser
The Stanford women, led by Vanessa Fraser in 40th, were 14th, extending a streak of top-16 NCAA finishes to 23 years.

Rosa and McGorty finished, sixth and seventh, and Grant Fisher was the top American-born freshman in the field, placing 17th.

It was the fifth-year senior Rosa's second top-10 finish, following his fifth place in 2013, and came after missing a year because of a knee injury that required surgery. He didn't even race until Oct. 30.

Syracuse ended Colorado's two-year reign, winning with 82 points. Colorado was second with 91, followed by Stanford (151) and Oregon (183), giving the Pac-12 three of the top four. With Washington, it was four of the top eight.

Oregon junior Edward Cheserek became the first in meet history to capture three consecutive individual titles, covering the 10-kilometer course at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in 28:45.8.

Stanford's 16th top-five finish came during a season in which the Cardinal faced a great amount of adversity that made such a high NCAA finish seem remote, especially after the team finished 21st at the Wisconsin Invitational and dropped to No. 23 in the rankings.

Despite the accomplishment, Stanford's performance was tinged with some sense of disappointment because of how the Cardinal ran from Nos. 5-7, and that Colorado provided an opening that Stanford couldn't take advantage of.

"Once they remove themselves and see what they've done, they should be proud of themselves," Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg told Flotrack. "I know they don't feel that way now, but they should and I want them to in the next couple of days."

McGorty, the junior Pac-12 runner-up, had been the rock all season for Stanford. On Saturday, he let a front pack of four go, but was among the leaders of the second pack and mostly maintained position throughout the race.

Miltenberg took a cautious approach with Fisher, one of two high schools all-time to win two Foot Locker national cross-country championships and run a sub-4 mile.

With the increased weekly mileage and an NCAA distance that was double what he raced in high school, Fisher raced in only two meets for Stanford, at the Pac-12 Championships over 8K, and Saturday, in his first 10K attempt. Miltenberg was concerned that a more frequent race schedule and higher mileage would leave Fisher fatigued by the NCAA race.

The approach worked. Fisher moved up throughout the race, passing 53 runners over the final half of the race.

Only UTEP's Jonah Koech, a Kenyan who finished 11th, had a better finish among freshmen.

"We dragged each other through it," Fisher said on Flotrack. "The individual placing was great, but I'm more happy to score low points for my team. I did as much as I could for the team – everybody did. I'm proud of all the guys and I'm proud just to be on this team."

Sweatt, improved by four places over his 68th place from last year when he was the Cardinal's No. 6 runner.

Sweatt should be admired for the way he battled after he started to struggle. He dropped 28 places placed between 2K and 5.2K, but rather than continue to freefall, Sweatt managed to right himself and actually gained five places the rest of the way.

Joe Rosa, who had been battling hamstring issues, was 97th to complete Stanford's scoring. Sam Wharton and Jack Keelan, two runners still seeking top fitness after injuries, finished 207th and 231st, respectively.

"It's a good sign of things to come," Miltenberg said. "In a year when we weren't perfect, we were still third."

The Stanford women matched their 14th-place finish from last season and were close to its pre-meet No. 13 ranking.

New Mexico won its first title, with 49 points, followed by Colorado (129) and Oregon (214). Notre Dame's Molly Seidel won the title, covering the 6K in 19:28.6.

Stanford scored 379 points, a 36-point improvement over last year and return six of its top seven, graduating only two-time Pac-12 champion Aisling Cuffe, who placed 117th in 20:57.3.

Cuffe, who battled a calf injury that kept her out of the West Regional, was fourth in 2013 before missing the 2014 season with a back injury.

She never was among the lead pack and struggled down the stretch, dropping 49 places over the final 2K.

Fraser, a junior and former walk-on from Scotts Valley, California, earned her first cross-country All-America honor. Her time was 20:27.7.

A surprising second for Stanford was Claudia Saunders, a two-time NCAA outdoor 800-meter runner-up, who was the Cardinal's No. 5 at the Pac-12 and NCAA West Regional.

Saunders ran 20:46.4 to place 89th, passing 68 runners over the final two kilometers.

Stanford ran well as a team, with its top six finishing within 48 seconds of each other. Sophomore Julia Maxwell was 129th (21:02.6), Danielle Katz was 150th (21:12.6), Sophie Chase was 158th (21:15.3), and freshman Hannah Long was 210th (21:45.9).

— David Kiefer/Stanford Athletics

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