Sports

Cardinal freshmen will impact women's cross country program

 

Elizabeth DeBole was named women's head cross country coach, receiving the title for the duties she's already performed as an assistant.

DeBole recruited a high-powered five-woman class that should be impactful, though nothing is certain when predicting freshmen success.

The class features of World Under-20 1,500 bronze medalist Christina Aragon and U.S. Junior Championships 5,000 record-holder Fiona O'Keeffe. Hannah DeBalsi is the No. 5 high school two-miler of all-time, Ella Donaghu is the No. 7 high school 1,500 runner ever, and Sarah Walker has run 2:03.70 in the 800.

"They've done phenomenal things in high school and have really great resumes," DeBole said. "What comes with that is a maturity about the sport. They love it and they're excited about it. They know what works for them and what doesn't, and their communication skills with me are great.”

The freshmen have helped the Cardinal reach No. 7 in the current rankings.

"They're going to fit in really well with the group that we already have, which is the most important thing,” DeBole said. “I'm really protective of our culture. I think what we have is really cool, and they mesh really well with that."

Aragon, coming off an appearance in the Olympic Trials 1,500 semifinals, will join Donaghu and DeBalsi in the lineup. Walker will redshirt and O'Keeffe, who entered fall camp with an injury, may do the same.

Stanford graduated two-time Pac-12 champion Aisling Cuffe and the team's No. 2 at last year's NCAA Championships, half-miler Claudia Saunders. However, Stanford returns Elise Cranny, who missed last season with an injury, and cross country All-America Vanessa Fraser (15:41.64, 5,000 PB), last year's team No. 1 at nationals.

Of last year's NCAA top seven, all-region runners Sophie Chase, Danielle Katz, and Julia Maxwell also return. The Cardinal has placed 14th the past two years.

Cranny, Aragon, and Donaghu represent three of the seven-fastest high school 1,500 runners of all-time. Cranny, the NCAA runner-up and Pac-12 champ in the 1,500, brings a versatility that allows her to stand out at all distances. In 2014, she was second in the Pac-12 cross country and went on to set a U.S. junior record (8:58.88) while finishing second in the NCAA indoor 3,000.

The talent clearly is there, but so is the need, with such a young group, to temper enthusiasm.

"I would like them to set goals for themselves and not expectations," DeBole said. "If we go to the national meet and get 15th .... So what? As long as we're doing the best we can and everyone's going out and giving 100 percent, then that's all you can ask. You can't say it was a failure. But the group is mature enough that they already understand that."

Women's cross country has been one of the most successful programs at Stanford. The Cardinal has won five NCAA team titles, 14 regional crowns, and 20 conference championships. No team in the country has advanced to the NCAA Championships for 23 consecutive seasons as Stanford has.

"I want our women to write their own history," DeBole said. "Stanford has such an incredible history in distance running, but I also think it's important to focus on themselves rather than upholding a legacy. This is a completely new group, with its own story and its own goals.

"We're proud of what past teams have accomplished, but we're really excited about where we're going in the next few weeks, months, and years."

— David Kiefer/Stanford Athletics

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