STANFORD, Calif. -- The importance of the indoor season often pales when held up to the outdoor campaign, but this year is unique for the Stanford track and field team because it will be the last time two of the program’s greats will wear Cardinal uniforms.
Kathy Kroeger and Justine Fedronic complete their collegiate eligibility with the indoor season that begins Saturday at the UW Indoor Preview in Seattle. Kroeger is a nine-time All-America and the 2012 Pac-12 cross country champion, and Fedronic is a four-time All-America and the Stanford outdoor record holder in the 800 meters.
A year ago, Stanford was largely without Kroeger, who was limited by injuries, and without Fedronic and Aisling Cuffe, the reigning Pac-12 cross country champ, who redshirted. Stanford failed to score at the NCAA indoor championships. And yet, with the roster largely intact, Stanford has established a cache for a strong season.
“It’s funny, it’s all the same people, but a lot different team,” said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford’s Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field. “If we put all the pieces together we certainly could make a good run at being in the top 10.”
Stanford is No. 9 in the USTFCCCA preseason women’s rankings and the men are No. 20. If both rankings hold, it would be an improvement for Stanford, which finished 30th in the men’s competition last year. The women are seeking their first top-10 indoor placing since 2008.
The backbone for both is with the teams’ distance runners – not only in individual races, but with their influence on the distance medley and 4x400 relays – both scoring events on the national level. Of Stanford’s eight NCAA men’s indoor titles, all have come in distance or DMR races, and six Cardinal women DMR teams have placed among the top three at the NCAAs.
That pattern should be no different.
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The Cardinal women could get a big season from Kroeger. Three times she placed in the top seven of the NCAA outdoor 5,000 and also was an Olympic trials finalist in 2012 (her outdoor best is 15:33.76). Kroeger could compete at the NCAA indoors in the 5,000 and 3,000. Miltenberg, however, is conscious of her post-collegiate career and wary of running her too hard, even in her final season.
Of Kroeger and Fedronic, “We’ll make sure we’re not selling the farm for them indoors, and position them to run well at outdoor nationals and in Europe. But, it is their last time in a Stanford uniform.”
Miltenberg’s said Kroeger’s focus will be the 5,000, which she plans to run at the Husky Classic on Feb. 14 to earn one of the nation’s top 16 season times and advance to the NCAA meet. She’ll run the 3,000 at the Penn State National invitational and at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships.
If she qualifies in both events, how she feels after the 5,000 would determine whether she takes the starting line in the 3,000 the following day.
Fedronic, who was third in the 2013 NCAA outdoor 800 and has an outdoor best of 2:00.97, joins sophomores Amy Weissenbach (2:00.98 outdoors), an NCAA and U.S. outdoor finalist, and U.S. junior runner-up Claudia Saunders (2:06.46 outdoors) in the 800.
Weissenbach also could move up to the mile to maximize points. All three could serve on both the 4x400 and DMR, as could quartermilers Kristyn Williams (52.59 outdoors) and Malika Waschmann, an impressive freshman. Cuffe also is a possibility to run the DMR mile leg. Jessica Tonn, a second-team outdoor All-America in the 5,000, is redshirting the indoor season.
Stanford’s strength in the throws largely rests with outdoor events such as the javelin and discus. However, Alyssa Wisdom (55-8 ¼ indoors) is a returning NCAA indoor qualifier in the shot put and could score there.
Coaches also will keep an eye on the development of freshman horizontal jumper Carla Forbes (20-1 ¼ , 42-5 ¼ indoors). Out with a knee injury last year, Forbes won nine national high school titles as a sophomore and junior, indoors and outdoors in both jumps.
“She looks great,” Miltenberg said. “She’s 100 percent healthy and training really well. But when you’re in a technical event like that, getting your timing back takes time. It takes competing and getting those reps. We think she’ll definitely be on the cusp of making the NCAA indoors, but most of all, we want her to get back the foundation she missed last year. By outdoors, she could be one of the best in the country.”
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A storyline for the Stanford men will be 2012 Olympic 400 finalist Steven Solomon, now a sophomore. He dealt with a minor injury that, in combination with preparing for the outdoor world championships in late August, kept him out of the indoor season.
Solomon finished third in the Pac-12 in a school freshman record 46.12, but didn’t approach top form until late summer when he ran as the leadoff leg for the Australian team that reached the world final in the 4x400 relay.
“We’re going to use him sparingly this winter, but will certainly race him,” Miltenberg said. “We felt, and Steven agreed, that he needs to get racing in the winter to help him get prepared for a great outdoor season.
Solomon makes his collegiate indoor debut with a leg on Stanford’s 4x400 on Saturday on the flat oversized 307-meter Mondo surface at University of Washington’s Dempsey Indoor. However, in preparation for the NCAA’s on the 200-meter banked track at the Albuquerque (N.M.) Convention Center, Solomon will run on a similar-sized track at the Penn State National, in a DMR and possibly a 400.
“We’ll make sure we get his body a chance to adapt,” Miltenberg said.
With Solomon, Stanford could be a national contender in the DMR, an event the Cardinal has won three times at NCAA’s. The Cardinal placed eighth last year and returns Luke Lefebure (1:49.92 outdoors) in the 800 spot and anchor Michael Atchoo in the mile.
With indoor first-team All-America miler Tyler Stutzman out of indoor eligibility (he has a fifth year outdoors), combinations could include reigning U.S. junior 1,500 champ Justin Brinkley, as well as senior Marco Bertolotti (3:44.22 for 1,500) and Canadian junior international Scott Buttinger (1:50.06, 3:47.91). The junior Lefebure, a fixture on the Cardinal 4x400, is running better than ever and could have a breakthrough year indoors and outdoors in the 800.
Atchoo had the team’s best performance of 2013 with his school indoor-record setting 3:57.14 mile to win the MPSF title. However, the DMR-mile combination at the NCAAs – and his workload in the weeks leading up to the meet – left him fatigued.
While Atchoo may run the mile at MPSFs, he plans to run the 3,000 at nationals, which should leave him more rested. Unlike the mile, there is no preliminary round in the 3K at the NCAAs.
In the field events, Dylan Duvio (17-3 ½), the U.S. and Pan Am junior runner-up, could make an immediate impact in the pole vault. Miltenberg likes his competitive edge.
“He keeps getting better as the meets get bigger,” Miltenberg said.
Long and high jumper Dartis Willis II most likely will redshirt indoors because of an injury, but jumps should be strong with junior triple jumper Darian Brooks (49-11). After redshirted last season with a minor injury, Brooks is poised to have a big season.
“Darian is fired up to compete,” Miltenberg said. “He could be the great story of this indoor season.”
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Dates to remember:
Jan. 18 (Season opener), UW Indoor Preview, Seattle.
Feb. 28-March 1, MPSF Championships, Seattle.
March 14-15, NCAA Championships, Albuquerque, N.M.