Sept. 28, 2012
Stanford cross country enters a new era under Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field Chris Miltenberg. The former Georgetown coach who led the Hoya women to the NCAA title a year ago will also serve as head cross-country coach.
Miltenberg inherits a program that is loaded with talent, although generally unproven. However, this is far from a rebuilding year as both the Cardinal men and women should have legitimate shots to compete for the podium at the NCAA meet.
"We obviously lost a great group of seniors with Chris Derrick, Elliott Heath and Jake Riley," said Miltenberg. "It's a young team that people might have written off, but I think we can be a lot better than people think."
Stanford returns a group that does have experience in big meets, but more as the supporting cast. This season those runners will have to step up to be the key components of `the machine'.
Benjamin Johnson and Miles Unterreiner return for their fifth years and will lead the group. Johnson has been a top five runner the past couple of seasons, but needs to stay healthy for a full year. He has missed the last two NCAA meets because of injury. Unterreiner has been an All-American in track and looks to carry that success over to the cross-country course.
Perhaps the two runners most capable of a big breakthrough are juniors Tyler Stutzman and Erik Olson. Stutzman appears ready for a big year after finishing as Stanford's top runner at the opening USF Invite. He has 1,500-meter speed, but has added mileage to build strength. Olson placed 12th at the Pac-12 meet a year ago and has the ability to step up and be a frontrunner for the Cardinal.
"Tyler Stutzman has really stepped it up," said Miltenberg. "He was primarily a 1,500-meter runner the last few years, but he is in phenomenal shape right now."
"Erik Olson is ready to step up," said Miltenberg. "He ran great cross as a freshman two years ago and is ready to really become a leader for us."
Jim and Joe Rosa are two others that should have prominent roles after some ups and downs as freshmen. Joe ran well during the championship season, including a big race at the NCAA Regionals to help Stanford to a title. This season, both twins are ready to step up to a new level.
Others that could be in the mix include Andrew Berberick, Riley Sullivan and a host of younger athletes looking to breakthrough. Berberick was the Stanford's No. 3 runner at the NCAA Championships a year ago, but battled injuries in track. He hopes to be ready for a late surge as he did a year ago.
"The best part of this team is we have probably 10 guys that on any given day could be our No. 1-7 runners," said Miltenberg. "Having that depth is what is going to make this team good. The cohesiveness and synergy are going to be the key to the team's success. If we can really learn to run well as a team, we can have as much depth at the front of races as anyone."
On the women's side, senior Kathy Kroeger is the established star, but Stanford is probably unmatched in the nation as far as young talent.
"We are inheriting a really young team on the women's side," said Miltenberg. "We need to be careful and bring the freshmen along slowly, but we are going to be dependent on the freshmen and sophomores."
Kroeger returns after earning All-America honors last year in cross country and having an outstanding track season that resulted in a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials. The senior shouldn't have to take a backseat to anyone in the country and will be the Cardinal frontrunner this season.
"It is exciting to have Kroeger back," said Miltenberg. "We think she can run with anyone in the country."
After Kroeger, Stanford returns Aisling Cuffe and Jessica Tonn who were both key contributors last season. Cuffe broke the American Junior Record in the 3,000 meters during the indoor season and in her second year on The Farm could be ready to join Kroeger up front. Tonn continues to be solid and reliable for the Cardinal, always scoring key points.
The other veteran returner who could be a factor is Emilie Amaro who seems all the way back from injury that slowed her once promising career. Amaro came on at the end of cross country last year and then had a great track season and hopes to be a big contributor this fall.
After those veterans, it could be any of a number of young runners for the Cardinal. Stanford had several freshmen last year get their feet wet and is hoping for improvement in each of their second seasons. In addition, the Cardinal boast perhaps the top recruiting class in the nation with several that could contribute right away.
Among the freshmen, Cayla Hatton is one the fastest high schoolers ever, but Cami Chapus and Megan Lacy are also expected to contribute right away. Hatton ran the second fastest 5,000 and 10,000-meter time in high school history, while Chapus was the top high school miler in the country last year and a two-time California state champion in cross country.
"We have a great group," said Miltenberg. "They are working really well together and on any given day I think we can surprise a lot of people."