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Cardinal First, Second at NCAAs

Another Championship Season at Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. - One of the most difficult achievements for any collegiate team is to repeat as national champions. Expectations for the defenders are high, while the opposition has nothing to lose and everything to gain by upsetting a former championship team.

That's what faced the 1997 Stanford men's and women's cross country teams, and they were up to the challenge. The formula for success was in place; talent and hard work.

The men were ranked #1 in the pre-season, while the women achieved a similar position in the pre-season polls.

Building upon an outstanding summer of aggressive conditioning, the Cardinal men and women journeyed to Mammoth Lakes, California, for pre-season training. The grueling daily schedule was designed to challenge the team, mentally and physically. Head coach Vin Lananna and his coaching staff stressed to both teams that all the top teams would not hand over a second straight NCAA title to Stanford on a silver platter.

As one Cardinal runner Michael Stember, who will be one of Stanford's top runners in 1998 stated, "We set our focus on looking straight up and not setting a ceiling."

Stanford opened the season with decisive wins at the Nevada Invitational, and at the Stanford Invitational. At the Stanford Invitational, six Cardinal women runners placed in the Top 10, while five Cardinal men runners finished in the Top 10.

At the Pre-NCAA Invitational at Furman, the purpose of the meet was to preview the course on which the NCAAs were held, and to compete against several of the nation's top teams. Stanford again won both races.

"One of our goals was to get a good perspective of what we were soon to face at Nationals," said Julia Stamps. "We went to scope things out, check out the course and get ourselves geared for the NCAAs."

The Pac-10 Championships were the next opportunity for the Cardinal to flex its muscle. For the women, the competition would be tough. Three conference opponents were ranked nationally, while the men's field featured six nationally-ranked teams, including #1 Stanford.

"We want to run up front," said Cardinal assistant coach Beth Alford-Sullivan, "and get up front early. We've been training hard. We're ready to race."

And race to victory is what the Cardinal accomplished, winning the Pac-10 title with 36 points compared to 72 for Oregon and Washington. Four Stanford runners finished in the top ten: Julia Stamps (third), Mary Cobb (fourth), Sally Glynn (fifth) and Sarna Renfro (seventh).

"The team was awesome," said Stamps. "We all ran together and really keyed off each other."

Brent Hauser said team work would lead the Cardinal men to victory at the conference meet.

"We're a very strong, cohesive group. You'll see our cohesiveness during the race. We really work off each other."

And the Cardinal men did not disappoint, maintaining its undefeated status. Four Stanford runners placed in the Top 10, led by senior Nathan Nutter's third place finish.

"Nathan has come a long way since his freshman year," said Lananna. "I've always had a lot of respect for Nathan. He's ethical and possesses good sportsmanship. He's a good, solid person."

The next stop for Stanford was the NCAA Western Regionals in Tucson. And again the Cardinal men's and women's teams defended their titles. Four Stanford men's runners finished in the top ten, while Stamps, Glynn, Cobb and Renfro finished 2-3-4-5 over 5,000 meters.

"We wanted to come and run strong together, and that's exactly what we did," said Lananna.

Alford-Sullivan concurred with Lananna, "Our top kids had a day that shows what they are capable of."

Both teams took their talents to the NCAAs at Furman University. The men's 10,000 meters was considered by many as the most exciting race in years. When the dust settled, the final score displayed the closest team competition in 27 years. Colorado, Michigan and Arkansas figured to give Stanford a run for their money.

"Last year, we didn't know what it exactly took," said Nutter. "This year, we know what it takes to be NCAA champions. It seems like we're following the same schedule. It's looking pretty good right now."

"Our strategy is to run all out during the last half of the course," said Lananna.

And the Stanford men won with a late rush. Freshman Jonathon Riley, the fifth and final scorer, and sixth man Jason Lunn caught Arkansas' fifth man in the final 1,000 meters.

"That was the race," said Lananna. "Arkansas went out and put it to us early. But our guys ran really, really well. Last year (1996) was impressive, but this year was also impressive for different reasons."

Stanford scored 53 points compared to 56 for the Razorbacks.

On the women's side, four Cardinal athletes finished in the top 30. Tension was high after the race while everyone awaited the final tally. After a close review, it was determined that a tight pack from Brigham Young had narrowly captured the title by two points. Stanford had finished in the top two at the NCAAs for the second consecutive year.

Once again, Stanford proved its ability to stay focused and keep its eyes on the prize.