Sports

What a day for Stanford on the track (and the field)

 
Elise Cranny (left) won the 5,000 meters while Christina Aragon was second in the 1,500. Photo by Casey Valentine/isiphotos.com.

Elise Cranny won the 5,000 meters on Sunday to cap Stanford's performances at the Pac-12 Track and Field Championships that included six Cardinal individual titles, two top-three team finishes, and its highest men's team place in 15 years.

The Stanford men scored 125 points at Cobb Track and Angell Field to finish behind only Oregon's 174. It was a huge improvement for the team, which placed 10th last year.

The Stanford women scored 119 points to finish behind USC (170) and Oregon (154). It matched the team's highest finish since 2012.

"From the day we left Eugene a year ago, disappointed at the Pac-12 on both sides, our team really took ownership of it -- ownership of our success, ownership of getting better," said Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg. "That's what great teams are built on, great synergy where you have great leadership coming from within. They want to get better, not from the coaches driving them, but from within the team."

Stanford hadn't reached 100 points in both competitions since 2003 and with 244 points, it was the program's highest combined score since the same year.

Cranny followed last week's decathlon winner Harrison Williams and four Cardinal to become the team's sixth individual champion of the meet. Steven Fahy (3,000 steeplechase), Jack Keelan (10,000), Vanessa Fraser (10,000), and Mackenzie Little (javelin) won on Saturday.

Cranny, a senior, had only run a track 5,000 once before in her collegiate career, at the 2016 Payton Jordan Invitational. But she ran Sunday like a veteran, making a decisive move with 300 to go and outrunning Arizona's Claire Green to the finish line to capture a tactical race in 16:28.54.

The decision to run the 5,000 was partly based on developing strength for the two rounds of the 1,500 at the NCAA West Prelims on May 24-16 and the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, on June 6-9. Cranny was the 2016 Pac-12 1,500 champion and the NCAA outdoor runner-up.

But Cranny also felt the switch would help her mentally as she prepared for the season's stretch run in the 1,500.

"I ran the 1,500 at Payton Jordan and didn't feel I was in a real good mental place," said Cranny, who placed seventh on May 3. "I'm actually really glad I did the 5. I think it was a good little break from the 15 and just got me back in the right mindset."

The pace was slow, and the pack was tight. One runner went down in the traffic, but Cranny stayed patient along the rail and gradually moved into position. With just over a lap to go, she settled onto the shoulder of Oregon's Lilli Burdon, and swiftly took the lead as they headed up the backstretch for the final time. Only Green went with Cranny, but it wasn't close.

Cranny closed with a 64-second final lap to win.

"This was really good practice for championship races because it went out pretty conservatively," Cranny said. "It really forced me to have to stay relaxed and calm when there was a lot going on around me. It was a great learning experience."

One of the most anticipated matchups of the meet came in the women's discus, between two of the America's finest throwers – Stanford's Valarie Allman and Arizona State's Maggie Ewen, who already had set meet records in winning the hammer and shot put.

Both throwers got out quickly, with Allman going 195-3 (59.51m) and Ewen going 196-3 (59.81m) on their first throws. Neither improved upon those distances over the next five rounds, with Allman fouling every time, including throws that appeared to be of winning distances that landed outside the right-sector.

Both Stanford teams entered the day with leads. After nine events of the 21 events, the Card men held a 64-59 lead over Oregon. Through 13 events, the Card women had 91 points, with USC next at 84.

Those leads didn't hold, but not for lack of effort. Grant Fisher and Sean McGorty doubled back from the 1,500, where they placed third and fourth, respectively, and ran the 5,000 with only two hours of rest. Alongside were teammates Jack Keelan, who won the 10,000 Saturday night and Steven Fahy, who won the 3,000 steeplechase on Saturday. Tom Coyle and DJ Principe ran the 1,500 the day before.

Fisher and McGorty earned the same places as the 1,500 and Stanford earned 14 points with four scorers among the top eight.

"You've got guys begging to run the 5K to double back and score another point," Miltenberg said. "We've been building toward that the past seven years, that the culture that great teams are built on and that's really the core of all the success – the synergy between the different event groups, everybody wanting to do it for each other."

But perhaps the highlight Sunday for the Cardinal men came from their sprint crew. In the 200, where Isaiah Brandt-Sims placed third (21.01w) and freshman Gabriel Navarro sixth (21.09w). Navarro also was fourth in the 100 in a windy 10.41. They joined Julian Body and Frank Kurtz to place third in both the 4x100 and 4x400. The Cardinal ran 40.03 in the 4x100 relay -- the fastest a Stanford team has run since 2004 and the fourth-fastest in school history -- and 3:08.01 in the longer relay.

In those events, plus Frank Kurtz's 47.10 for sixth in the 400 and Julian Body's seventh in the 400 hurdles, the Card sprinters combined for 31 points, giving Stanford a huge boost.

In reflecting on her victory, Cranny also considered her teammates. She sought advice from Fraser and Abbie McNulty, who normally run the distance. And Cranny took gained much from watching training partner Christina Aragon place second in the 1,500 with a strong effort to catch Oregon's Jessica Hull.

"Christina and I have been doing all our training together," Cranny said. "I love racing with her and training with her. She's inspired me so much."

— David Kiefer

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