Stanford finishes among top 3 at Pac-12 cross country race


Sophomore Grant Fisher placed second at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships to pace Stanford to a runner-up men's finish at Randolph North Golf Course in Tucson on Friday.


Grant Fisher
Stanford's 47 points were its lowest since 2010, but not enough to catch Colorado, which scored 41. Oregon's Edward Cheserek won an unprecedented fourth Pac-12 title, running 23:58.9 over the 8K (4.97-mile) course, with Fisher breaking away from a chase pack to finish in 24:13.5.


The Stanford women, led by Vanessa Fraser in eighth, were third with 83 points, behind Colorado (33) and Washington (74). Washington's Amy-Eloise Neale won a duel with Colorado's Erin Clark for the individual title.


Although Cheserek made a big move to gap the field with about 2 kilometers to go, Stanford had three runners in the chase pack. Besides Fisher, Sean McGorty was seventh and freshman Thomas Ratcliffe was eighth in his collegiate debut. Garrett Sweatt was 14th and Steven Fahy 16th.


"Today was a good show of our depth," Fisher said. "The points we lost, we can make up at a larger meet. We're confident we're going to get better by the week.


"We're happy with our performance, but we're looking to do even better at NCAA's."


Ratcliffe was the wild card. Coach Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's Director of Track and Field, feels Ratcliffe's potential is largely untapped. When Ratcliffe won the Stanford Invitational on Oct. 1 while running unattached to preserve a possible redshirt year, it was his first cross country race since middle school. He played soccer in the fall at Concord-Carlisle (Mass.) Regional High School, but still was talented enough to run a 4:01 mile without year-round training.


"When I looked around the pack with 1K to go and saw Thomas, it was definitely a confidence booster," Fisher said. "He ran incredibly well. He's made awesome progress."


Fisher said, "everyone knew Ches was going to take control of the race. I tried not to make too many rash decisions or move around too much."


By staying patient and tucking himself deep into the pack, Fisher found he had a lot left down the stretch to win the race within the race, the first behind Cheserek. Fisher gave Stanford its fourth consecutive individual top-three finish, following McGorty's second in 2015, Joe Rosa's third in 2014, and Jim Rosa's second in 2013.


McGorty said he didn't feel good on the last of four 2,000-meter loops, but said "there were things I could have done to help myself stay relaxed. I had a really good talk with Coach Milt afterward and we talked about minor things to change that will help a lot."


McGorty, a senior and seven-time All-America, was impressed with Fisher: "He races with the maturity of someone who's been in the NCAA way longer than he has."


The men have finished among the top three teams for 22 consecutive years, and beat Cal at this meet for the 29th consecutive time.


"Obviously, it would have been great to win," McGorty said. "But we had some really good efforts by different guys on the team. I think the gap will close when we get that consistent team effort like we did at Wisconsin. Coach Milt will have us where we need to be at regionals and nationals, so we just have to execute. I'm really excited for what the team can accomplish."


The Stanford women extended their Pac-12 streak over the Golden Bears to 26, and also benefited from a strong collegiate debut, from freshman Fiona O'Keeffe. She was 11th and finished as the Cardinal's No. 2 runner. She was among three Stanford freshmen in the top 20, with Christina Aragon 14th and Ella Donaghu 20th.


"Across the board, the women ran with total confidence in themselves," said Stanford women's coach Elizabeth DeBole. "We knew we could be really good if we ran as a team – together, together, together. And that's exactly what we did the second half of the race."


Stanford was without ace Elise Cranny, the 2014 Pac-12 runner-up and a six-time All-America, because of injury. However, Fraser has picked up the slack as the team's No. 1. This was her first top-10 conference finish.


O'Keeffe, who came into training camp with an injury and whose most recent competition was a meet record-setting performance in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. junior championships in June, "was incredibly tough and didn't hesitate to put herself up there and race," DeBole said.


Aragon and Donaghu also looked much smoother than their debut outing at the Pre-Nationals two weeks ago and also seem to be gathering strength and experience for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Indiana.


"A huge step in the right direction," Fraser said. "We're just scratching the surface of our potential, and Fiona's race perfectly exemplifies that. Not even being fully trained and she excelled in the deepest conference in the country. That shows what raw talent and racing maturity she has. Along with Ella and Christina, today is a great sign of what is to come for us.


"We just have to keep working hard, do what we do, and stay hungry, and we are only going to keep getting better."

— Stanford Athletics

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