A Stanford Sweep at NCAAs
Stanford Claims Men's & Women's NCAA Titles in 1996
Every season, coaches and athletes dream of winning a national championship. It's a difficult dream to turn into reality.
The competition is tough, and even great talent and hard work are sometimes not enough to win.
However, hard work and talent paid off for the Stanford men's and women's cross country program in 1996. What began as a dream turned into a season marked with wonderful lifetime memories. In 1996, Stanford won the NCAA title.
The dream season began in late August when the Cardinal team assembled for grueling daily practice schedules. The schedule was designed to challenge the team, mentally and physically. The pre-season national polls placed the Cardinal men's and women's team in the top five, but a national title would be a difficult task, with such notables as Arkansas and Wisconsin on the men's side and Villanova, Georgetown, Providence and Colorado on the women's side.
The Cardinal men's team of 1996 returned all but one member of a squad that placed fifth a year before. The Stanford women's team fielded talented, veteran personnel. Expectations were high for a great season, maybe a NCAA winning campaign. The dream was there.
"Our goal is to have both teams on the trophy stand at nationals," said Cardinal Director of Cross Country Vin Lananna at an early season meet. "We're clearly, on our worst day, two top 10 teams. On an average day, we're among the top three."
The first four meets of the year saw both the men's and women's team on the victory stand. The streak began with a season opening win at the Nevada Invitational, followed by major victories at the Fresno Invitational, the Stanford Invitational and at the Murray Keatinge Invitational at the University of Maine.
The meet at Maine gave Stanford an excellent indication of where it stood against teams in other parts of the country.
"This was a solid victory," said Lananna. "The win gave us a chance to prepare for the next three weeks of the season and build a big assault for the Pac-10s."
As the season progressed, the confidence of the team increased. The dream of winning an NCAA title was becoming more of a reality.
"The victory at the Stanford Invitational against major competition shows that Stanford is becoming a cross country powerhouse," said Sarna Renfro, shortly after winning the invitational. "This year we have depth we really need (to win an NCAA title). We're just not seven strong, we're 15 or 20 strong. That's what we really need to compete."
At the time of the Stanford Invitational (October 5), Lananna said, "We have great cross country ahead of us." It's obvious he knew then that Stanford had the distinct capability of winning the NCAA title.
A pivotal portion of the season faced the Cardinal men's team on Oct. 19 at the pre-NCAA Invitational at Tucson. At the time, Stanford was ranked second in the nation. When the day ended, Stanford stood on the victory stand, beating such other nationally-ranked team as #4 Northern Arizona, #6 Colorado and #9 Portland.
"Everyone knows what to expect," said Cardinal veteran Nathan Nutter after the race. "We just have to have good workouts and keep focused on our goal. That's the main thing that's gotten us this far - focusing on our goal."
Two weeks later, Stanford faced another major hurdle, the Pacific-10 Cross Country Championships, held at the Stanford Golf Course. The conference had fielded strong teams in the past, and 1996 was no exception. The day saw Stanford again on the winning side. The Cardinal men captured its first league crown since 1985, while the Cardinal women, after winning consecutive championships in 1993 and 1994, but losing to Oregon in 1995, fulfilled their year-long goal to "take the Pac back."
"This is a great day for the Stanford cross country and track & field program," said Lananna after accepting the conference trophies. "Our athletes have worked so hard to make it happen. It's not just seven athletes competing on either team. It's the whole team, the whole program. That's what's so rewarding about it. It's a good program with good leadership. That's really what makes us go, both on the women's side and the men's side."
The Cardinal dream season continued two weeks later with solid victories at the NCAA District-8 meet at Fresno. The victories meant an automatic berth in the NCAAs at the University of Arizona.
"I think the athletes will go in the same as they've gone in every meet, and that is to go in setting ourselves up to run our best race," said Lananna. "For us to succeed, we need to run with poise and control. We have to be intelligent."
On November 25, the year of hard work, dedication, and a dream of winning the NCAA title turned into reality. Stanford's men's and women's team, ranked #2 before the race, captured the NCAA titles for 1996. The Cardinal men defeated 21 other teams, including heavily favorite and defending champion Arkansas, to capture the school's first NCAA title in men's cross country. The Cardinal women captured the national title, the school's first women's title in cross country, defeating 21 other schools, including #1-ranked Villanova.
This was the first time a school had won the NCAA title for men and women in the same year since Wisconsin swept the titles in 1985. Stanford's previous high finish for men was second in 1972. The women's previous best performances came in 1982, 1983 and 1984 when Stanford placed second.
"I'm just overwhelmed right now," said Lananna after accepting the trophies along with assistant coaches Beth Alford-Sullivan and Andy Gerard. "I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for the seniors on the men's and women's teams. Winning today is a great thrill for us as coaches and for the athletes. Winning them both is truly significant."