ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Erik Olson placed seventh in the men’s 3,000 meters to enable Stanford to reach a notable achievement: All 12 of its athletes earned first-team All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, which concluded Saturday.
After combining for only seven points in last year’s meet, Stanford’s men and women combined for 40 this time. The Cardinal women tied for seventh place with 24 points and the men were 12th with 16. The finishes exceeded their rankings coming into the meet of 14th and 16th, respectively.
The placing and points were the highest for the women since 2008 (5th, 32), and the combined points were the most since scoring 55, also in 2008.
“That’s pretty exciting,” said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford’s second-year Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field. “Twelve people, 12 first-team All-Americans. Everyone scored. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Stanford was involved in only two events on Day Two of the meet at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Olson, a Bay Area native from Novato, earned his first collegiate first-team All-America honor, which is awarded to the top eight in each event. Olson, a senior, used a strong finish to reach the podium, clocking 8:14.77.
In the women’s 3,000, Aisling Cuffe placed seventh in 9:17.87 and Kathy Kroeger was 12th in 9:27.53. It was the second first-team honor of the meet for Cuffe, who was second in the 5,000 on Friday. Kroeger was third in Friday’s 5K, received a second-team honor for the 3,000, which was the final race in the collegiate career of the fifth-year senior.
In a heartfelt message to the team afterward, Miltenberg called each of the 12 to action. They’ve experienced success and have learned how to achieve it. They have long gone past the excitement being at a national championship and have instead reached the point of expecting to be there and achieve great things. It is their job, he said, to instill those same expectations on their teammates. That kind of motivation can only come from inside the team.
“I think it’s the biggest thing,” Miltenberg said. “If you look at this team, we’ve got great ability and we’ve got great recruits, but at the end of the day, culture and mindset are everything. That’s what’s going to tie it all together.
“That’s how we’re going to get back in the hunt to be the team that wins national championships, individually and as a team. That’s the part that’s exciting to me, seeing the standard they just re-set.”
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Olson struggled to 12th in the 5,000 on Friday, but rebounded thanks partly to some sage advice from teammate Joe Rosa.
“Take a bath,” Rosa told him.
“He’s a bath connoisseur and I’m not,” Olson said. “I haven’t taken a bath since I was five.”
But the warm water had the intended soothing effect. Olson felt calm at race time.
“It was one of those things where I wasn’t really dwelling about the race,” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous.”
Olson ran in a tight pack that had others straying into lanes three and four to avoid congestion and contact on the 200-meter banked Mondo track. Olson, however, stayed patient on the inside. Rather than seek out opportunities to take off, Olson prefers to evaluate the situation and move up steadily.
With a lap to go, he remained in the massive lead pack, and felt good, much better than the night before and good enough to punch it. He passed Oregon’s Parker Stinson, one of the early leaders, on the backstretch and caught Northern Arizona’s Brian Schrader in the final 50.
“I finally got that first-team All-America,” Olson said. “I’ve been fightin g for that spot for a couple of national finishes. It was nice to finally break that barrier. It’s nice to finally break through and establish that confidence that that’s where I belong. I didn’t expect any less than to be a first-team All-American.”
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Cuffe didn’t get out to the start she wanted in the 3,000 and settled further back in the pack then she preferred, in 13th for much of the early part of the race. Nonetheless, she continued her patience through the pack much as she did the night before in the 5K.
Kroeger was steady in mid-pack, but as the leaders began to break away, Kroeger didn’t have enough left to answer their charge.
Cuffe continued to push forward and, with three laps to go into fifth, then fourth with two to go, and finally boldly moved into third with 300 left. A large gap stood between leaders Abbey D’Agostino of Dartmouth and Arkansas’ Dominique Scott, and Cuffe, who attempted to bridge it.
But several runners passed Cuffe down the stretch, resulting in her seventh-place finish.
“I had my eyes up and I was hoping I had an opportunity,” Cuffe said. “I felt strong enough, but the closing speed in the 3K is not the same as the closing speed for a 5K. I felt like I was going really fast, but I don’t think I could have gone any faster.”
Kroeger was unhappy with her performance, but it did nothing to take away from all that she accomplished at Stanford. The 2012 Pac-12 cross country champion totaled 11 All-America honors, including cross country, and indoor and outdoor track. Only three others in the history of Stanford women’s track and field and cross country have more: Lauren Fleshman (1999-2003) with 15, Erica McLain (2005-08) with 14, and Arianna Lambie (2003-08) with 13.
“She’s been an amazing teammate, besides being a friend,” Cuffe said. “Since when I first came to campus, she was a huge influence on me. I saw Kathy and I saw the dedication, every day. I wanted to be able to say that I’m as committed as Kathy Kroeger. That inspired me.”
Kroeger and 800-meter specialist and DMR anchor Justine Fedronic both completed their collegiate careers this weekend and Miltenberg told the team how much he appreciated the qualities that made them so great. In a touching tribute, both wiped away tears as the rest of the team was silently moved by the coach’s words.
Later, Miltenberg explained the significance of their willingness to accept him as their new coach so deep into their Stanford years and became cornerstones of the new Stanford powerhouse that he hopes to build, and one that showed so much promise in Albuquerque.
“What I liked about Kathy and Justine was that it wasn’t immediate blind faith,” Miltenberg said. “I hope that they would agree that it was an earning of trust over time. I hope it wasn’t, ‘OK, another coach, let’s do what coach says.’
“I felt like we built trust and built great relationships, and the biggest thing for them was that they knew I was going to be committed to keeping them healthy, first and foremost, and I was going to look out for their longterm growth and development. Once they believed that, really believed it, then they were in it 110 percent.”
And now Stanford’s program is beginning to see the reward for that commitment.
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Winners and results Saturday in events Stanford competed::
Team scores - 1, Oregon 62; 12t, Stanford 16.
3,000 - 1, Edward Cheserek (Oregon) 8:11.59; 7, Erik Olson (Stanford) 8:14.77.
Team scores - 1, Oregon 44; 7t, Stanford 24.
3,000 - 1, Abbey D'Agostino (Dartmouth) 9:14.47; 7, Aisling Cuffe (Stanford) 9:17.87; 12, Kathy Kroeger (Stanford) 9:27.52.