Sports


Stanford cross country teams finish among top five at NCAAs

 

For the first time since 2006, Stanford's men's and women's teams both placed among the top five at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Sophomore Grant Fisher led the Stanford men to second and two freshmen earned All-America honors to pace the Cardinal women to fifth on Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course. Stanford was the only school to place in the top eight in both races.


Grant Fisher

Fiona O'Keeffe
In chilly, windy conditions, Fisher placed fifth, running 29:57.9 over 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to give Stanford its 16th top-5 individual finish in history. Stanford scored 158 points to trail champion Northern Arizona (125), but finish ahead of defending champion Syracuse (164). It was Stanford's third top-three finish in as many years, but left the Cardinal still chasing its first title since 2003.

Freshmen Fiona O'Keeffe placed 37th and Christina Aragon 38th over the 6K women's course to earn their first All-America honors. It was the first time O'Keeffe had led the Cardinal and the first time Aragon finished higher than the team's No. 3.

Stanford scored 255 points for the team's highest finish since placing third in 2012. It was the program's 18th top-five finish. The Stanford men and women have combined for 35 top-five NCAA finishes. This also marked the 10th time both Cardinal teams placed among the top five in the same year.

McGorty and Fisher were patient throughout the race, and Stanford led at the halfway point, with 117 points to NAU's 125.

At 6K, Villanova's Patrick Tiernan pushed the pace and by 8K it was a three-man race among Oregon's Edward Cheserek, aiming for an unprecedented fourth NCAA cross country title, and Justyn Knight of Syracuse just behind Tiernan.

The shocking part was that Cheserek began to fade. Known for his ability to punch into a different gear and gap the field in an instant late in races, 'King Ches' was unable to respond to the push of Tiernan and Knight.

Further back, McGorty and Fisher chose not to go with the leaders, believing that all the chasers would come back to them. For Fisher, that strategy worked, but McGorty was not having his best day and was unable to maintain that pace over the final kilometer.

"Things kind of blew open," Fisher said in a Flotrack interview. "Some people went and some people stayed. Pretty quickly there was a decent-sized gap. You could tell there were four that would hold that, but everyone else would be coming backward. I was running with (Wisconsin's) Morgan (McDonald) for a while and we were picking guys off. He was pulling hard and I was pulling hard too."

Fisher was the second American in the race, just behind NAU's Futsum Zienasellassie, and the only underclassman in the top 22. McGorty earned his third cross country All-America honor and eighth overall.

"The consistency our team has now and where the team is headed in the future means more to me than any individual finish could," McGorty said. "I'm not happy with my finish, but there are days like that in running. I'll reflect on the season with Coach Milt and learn from everything.

"The team is really happy with second and I couldn't be happier for where our program is now. And I think that Grant can definitely win this in the future. He's ridiculously talented and runs super mature. His future is really bright."

Stanford placed its top six in the top 86. The only exception was freshman Thomas Ratcliffe, who was struggling and was pulled from the course by his coaches. Coach Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field, said Ratcliffe may not have been totally recovered from his eighth-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships three weeks ago.

Miltenberg said the effort of his Nos. 3-6 runners – in order, Sam Wharton (41st), Steven Fahy (in a breakthrough 59th), Garrett Sweatt (73rd) and Jack Keelan (86th) -- were the key to Stanford's success.

"They kept bringing each other forward," Miltenberg said. I think it was all of them seeing each other during that period from 5K on, keeping each other up and fighting."

That was the message Miltenberg wanted to convey afterward. The team never talks about places or championships when creating its team goals. It's all about effort, and that's what Miltenberg took from Terre Haute.

"Yes, obviously we want to win one eventually," Miltenberg said to Flotrack. "But even more than that, we want to be a team that can show up every year and have every one of our guys bring it, and I think we did that today. I'm very proud of this and we'll keep working."

Fisher agreed.

"We all approached the race with a team mentality," Fisher said to GoStanford. "Even though things didn't go perfectly, we all were fighting when it got tough. Knowing that the guys were fighting hard for every position definitely gave me an extra boost, especially at the end of the race.

"We are proud of the result. We had everyone giving their best effort out there and had some guys, like Steven, step up big time when we really needed it. We've completely bought in to the team mentality this year and I think the result today shows it."

Even with the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, it would have been a stretch to predict even a top-10 team finish without a fit Elise Cranny. To finish in the top five was "phenomenal," said first-year head coach Elizabeth DeBole.

"We said from the beginning our goal was to secure a top-10 spot and work our way up from there – and we did that," DeBole said. "Now, we can really shift our focus to be on the top of the podium next year."

The plan was to stay controlled and tuck in the pack through 4K before building momentum to the finish, DeBole said.

Fraser wasn't able to duplicate her All-America (top 40) performance of last year, but did her part in the team effort, while finishing 67th.

"I didn't feel good out there, but I put my best possible effort forward to help the team result, and I think a lot of the other girls would say the same about their races, which is why we had such a positive team result," Fraser said. "We were able to scrap for places even when we didn't feel great."

Having two freshmen earn All-America honors is the first for the Stanford women since Lauren Fleshman and Erin Sullivan in 1999.

"Coach Liz and Coach Milt really emphasized the fact that this is just another race," Aragon said. "It helped us all go into it with the mindset that we are just going to do the same thing that we always do. It was really nice to have older teammates who had done this before and could show us how to stay relaxed, and approach the race just like any other.

"It was honestly just amazing to get to run at nationals with such a great group, and I'm super excited to have been able to feel good and race well for the team."

Cranny, who was 12th in this race two years ago, had suffered a foot injury midseason and this race was only her third run on ground. She had been on the Alter-G for a couple of weeks, and has been doing a lot of swimming, bicycling, and aqua jogging in the meantime.

The plan was for her to run conservatively and see if she could provide support and perhaps earn some places in the team effort. But she didn't have much left and finished 158th, but wasn't bothered by the result.

"This whole weekend has been so fun," she said. "There is an awesome energy throughout the entire team. It was so exciting to be back racing again. I wanted to run the best possible team race and give it my all for my teammates.

"I wish I could have done better over the last 2K for my teammates, but am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to run here at all. It was a great team experience that I won't forget."

Her teammates, men and women, could say the same thing.

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