Missy Mongiovi was a prime example of why Stanford's women's 4x400-meter relay has a realistic shot at making the NCAA Championships final.
In her first home meet and second as a collegian, she stepped in and helped power the Cardinal to victory at the 41st Stanford Track and Field Invitational on Saturday in a time of 3:32.67, the fourth-fastest in school history.
Mongiovi ran the third leg in 53.3 -- her personal record for an open 400 is 54.70 -- and maintained a strong lead before giving way to senior Kristyn Williams and her 52.5 anchor leg. Gaby Gayles started things off at 53.8 and Olivia Baker gave the Cardinal the lead for the good with a split of 52.8.
The significance of Mongiovi's race is twofold: It illustrates the depth and the variety of options sprints coach Gabe Sanders has at his disposal, and proves that Stanford has created a benchmark that it can expect to maintain each time out.
Last year, Stanford reached the NCAA outdoor semifinals with Williams and three freshmen. They all returned this year and set a school indoor record of 3:33.78, but barely missed advancing to the NCAA Indoor Championships -- by three spots and 0.45 seconds.
Now, they appear ready to take another step forward, especially with Mongiovi and others, like freshman hurdler Hannah Labrie-Smith, senior 400/800 runner Kaitlyn Williams, or senior half-miler Claudia Saunders in the fold.
"We have a team that can make the NCAA final," Sanders said. "There's not a doubt in my mind. Missing NCAA's indoors was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. Just being on the outside looking in made us much hungrier. Now, the mentality is: We don't want to squeak in, we want to be players. A fire's been lit."
Mongiovi replaced Michaela Crunkleton Wilson on the Stanford 'A' team because the sophomore already had a heavy load over the two-day meet. Crunkleton Wilson was third in the 100 on Friday (there were two rounds) and won her section and was fifth overall in the 200 earlier Saturday with a personal best 24.03, a big improvement over her previous best of 24.30.
"We saw this as a prime opportunity to give an up-and-coming freshman an opportunity to prove herself and show the rest of the team that it's not just about four individuals, but it's about a team," Sanders said. "At any given time, your name could be called. That's really what this group is all about -- it's a team mentality, it's not just about a few individuals. Any person at any time needs to be prepared to jump in."
That notion held true.
"Moving up is a big honor," Mongiovi said. "I definitely did not want to let the team down."
Williams, the only senior and still the elder statesman of the group, said she sees the growth in her teammates and that's allowed her to run more relaxed.
"My role is to be an example," she said. "The girls who were freshmen last year really matured and they're really carrying their weight on their own. I know I can count on everyone as much as they can count on me."
Stanford junior Carla Forbes was a national high school triple jump champion in her native Massachusetts, and now appears back in peak form after some setbacks that plagued her since her senior year in high school.
Forbes jumped 41-11 3/4 to finish second to California's Ashley Anderson (42-3 1/4), and just ahead of Stanford teammate Marisa Kwiatkowski (41-3 3/4) , who also was within inches of her personal best. Forbes climbed to No. 7 on Stanford's all-time performers' list.