September 4, 1998
STANFORD, Calif. - As he enters his seventh year as Director of Cross Country/Track & Field at Stanford and as the combined program continues to climb the mountain of success, Vin Lananna takes a moment to survey the prospects. From where he stands, he can see three NCAA Championship titles, one NCAA runner-up finish, and six Pac-10 conference victories. He can take comfort to see beneath him certain trials already surmounted. But when he looks ahead to a summit still hidden from view, his perspective is more equivocal. On the one hand, Lananna regrets the loss of experienced members of his outfit, "Many athletes have worked hard to position this program in the right direction." On the other hand, Lananna draws confidence from a solid corps of runners with championship experience who remain intact. "We have a very seasoned group returning. We are encouraged by the progress we have made in the program, and we have learned what we need to do at the NCAA Championships."
One of the strengths in Stanford's success has been the structure of the coaching assignments. As the program's Director, Lananna is actively involved in the workouts and goal preparation for each woman and man in the program. He works with assistant coaches Beth Alford-Sullivan and Michael Reilly, who oversee the daily operation of the women's and men's teams, respectively. This trio of coaches is committed to continue developing a combined program of national caliber excellence.
Outlook for the 1998 Season
The Cardinal men will face a challenging year, because of the strength of the other teams in the country and the loss of key athletes. According to Assistant Coach Michael Reilly, "We will miss the contributions of excellent runners like Greg Jimmerson and J.J. White two years ago, and Nathan Nutter and Jason Lunn last year. Those are big, substantial losses." Nathan Nutter was Stanford's indomitable lead man last fall. He finished eighth at the NCAAs, earning the lowest Stanford stick and placing the down payment on the team title. Jason Lunn, with returning teammate Jonathon Riley, bounded past Arkansas' fifth scorer in the final moments to seal the deal. The departure of these two runners and other veterans is a heavy blow. However, Lananna is confident with the return of a talented stable of runners. The Stanford runners have long referred to themselves privately as "The Machine," a name which suggests that although individual components may change, The Machine itself continues to gain momentum throughout the generations.
The two main cogs in the 1998 Stanford Machine will undoubtedly be the dynamic duo of Brad and Brent Hauser, twin stars in the cross country and track constellations. The Hauser brothers have raced foot to foot, the one outdone only by the other, in order to establish themselves as the preeminent Stanford runners as well as national and international contenders. Last fall, Brad was Stanford's second runner at tenth place in the NCAAs while Brent was the team's fourth runner at 17th place overall. More recently, Brad earned the 1998 NCAA individual crown in the 10,000 meters with Brent in tow for a one-two punch. Brad became Coach Lananna's first ever individual national champion in an illustrious coaching career which includes his premier athletes at Dartmouth (Jim Sapienza, Bob Kempainen) as well as Stanford (Gary Stolz, Greg Jimmerson). Brad and Brent are both two-time All-Americans in cross country.
Though Brad and Brent maintain exclusive company while racing, senior Jason Balkman has been known to rub elbows with them on the course, notably in last season's NCAA Championships where he was Stanford's third runner at 14th place. He also finished in seventh at the Western Regional Championships. Balkman is a methodical and self-styled runner whose powers have really come into focus and whose steady progress will continue in the 1998 season.
While these three veterans are anticipated to stay the course this fall, there is a talented list of underclassmen who will be nipping at their heels. Chief among them will be Jonathon Riley and Gabe Jennings. Riley returns from a stellar freshman season which saw him cross the line twenty-third at last year's NCAA Championships. His final charge proved pivotal in securing the second consecutive NCAA title for Stanford. Last spring, Riley reconfirmed his distance talent by running 13:56.81 for 5,000 meters, the #1 ranked time in the country for true freshman. Although Jennings redshirted his freshman season, he proved his cross country strength by winning the 1997 Junior National Cross Country Championships in Portland, securing a spot on his third U.S. national team. Jennings also had an exciting track season, which saw him capture second place in the 1,500 meters at the NCAAs and post the #2 ranked 5,000 meter time (13:57.28) for freshman behind teammate Riley.
Thomas Murley, on the heels of a track season in which he posted an NCAA provisional qualifier at 10,000 meters, will figure prominently in the Cardinal's plans for 1998. Michael Stember, a sub-four minute miler by trade, will be counted upon to turn his track prowess to the cross country course. Stember has earned several All-America honors in his first two years and could be an important ingredient to yet another championship recipe.
Adding the final luster on an already dazzling Stanford Machine are Jon Weldon, Chris Lundstrom, and Jake Maas, who were all prominent Cardinal figures in the Western Regional Championships last fall.
Despite the depth and promise of its established runners, Lananna readily admits that the establishment and perpetuation of a national caliber program is ultimately dependent on its recruits. Lananna is confident, "That's always been the strength of our program, developing the potential of its younger runners." In respect to the incoming class, there is ample potential to develop. Jonathan Stevens, Daniel Parris, Jesse Thomas, and Joe Urbanski are but four of several new suns rising on the Cardinal horizon. Stevens of Fremont, California, who has run 1:48.65 for 800m, was just announced the Gatorade National Athlete of the Year. Parris hails from Missouri, where he also earned honors in swimming, and was awarded the Wendy's Heisman Award for the state of Missouri. Thomas and Urbanski have won individual state cross country championships in Oregon and Arizona, respectively.
While pollsters and internet aficionados are bound to drum up the possibility of a three-peat in 1998, the Stanford coaches and runners themselves know better than to set such a single-minded goal for the season. If Stanford does indeed return to the podium at the NCAAs in 1998, it will be because they have fulfilled a number of arduous and intermediary steps, especially the defense of their 1997 Pac-10 and Western Regional titles. In the meantime, the Stanford men will continue to ignore the media and refrain from prognostications, preferring instead to seal themselves shut within the logic and the hum of The Machine.
The Cardinal women stand at the starting line of a new season, having raised a tremendous battle standard in the recent years. However, this tour of duty will be unlike the previous seasons. This year veteran soldiers Kortney Dunscombe, Sara Moore, and Sarna Renfro have retired from collegiate cross country after four years of faithful service. To be sure, much of the team's success during their time can be attributed to their tremendous talent and vision for the future. Last fall, raising the battle cry of "Cardinal Color," the triumvirate Dunscombe, Moore, and Renfro were a permanent fixture in the configuration of the top seven. Renfro raced as Stanford's fourth runner at the NCAAs, while Moore and Dunscombe were the sixth and seventh Cardinal women. Assistant Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan echoes the importance of the loss of these veteran women, "They were pioneers. They not only set the stage for the program, they helped build the stage." The loss of these three athletes will provide an opportunity for another group of talented stars to shine.
Administered by the extant elders Mary Cobb and Jessica Fry, the Stanford women continue to fly the Cardinal color. Mary Cobb is a six-time All-American, and the captain of the 1998 squad. She led an impressive cross country campaign last fall, running consistently in the top three throughout and finishing 22nd at the NCAAs as Stanford's third woman. Cobb has been a prominent component of Stanford's rise to national contention. Her talents are priceless, and her leadership will prove pivotal in shaping the women's season. Jessica Fry boasts an outstanding cross country rsum, which includes running as the second Cardinal woman in the 1996 NCAAs and 16th place finish overall. As a veteran of the 1996 NCAA Championship squad, she understands the elements of a highly successful season.
The problem of praising sophomore Julia Stamps is which of her decorations over a long and distinguished cross country career to include. Suffice to say, Stamps immediately took the helm of Cardinal cross country as a freshman last fall by winning her first collegiate race, the Stanford Invitational. Stamps proved that she had plenty of wind left in her sails by maintaining her status as the premier Stanford woman all season long, finishing in the top three at both the Pac-10 and Western Regional championships. She culminated this illustrious debut in the Cardinal uniform with a phenomenal fourth place finish at the NCAAs. Any collective effort to reappear on the NCAA podium in 1998 will find Stamps near the front of the charge.
Also returning from last season's highly successful team will be Sally Glynn and Ann Ramsey. Glynn will certainly be a critical part of any Stanford siege. She placed in the top five at both the Pac-10 and Western Regional meets last fall. Glynn capped off her season as Stanford's second woman at the NCAAs and finished in 20th place overall. She will be building on a track season which saw her earn All-America honors at 3,000 meters. Also there will be sophomore Ann Ramsey, who, having recently enjoyed a trip to Morocco as a member of the 1998 U.S. junior national cross country team, can only be expected to improve on an already outstanding freshman finish of 69th in the 1997 NCAAs. Bet on Courtney Adams, who is fresh on the heels of a promising and debut track season, to be in the rush. That completes the roll-call of the new guard in whom Lananna confides, "The experience that our younger runners have gained will play a big role in our success."
Members of the incoming class are likely to see valuable action this Fall. They include Malindi Elmore, who competed against Ann Ramsey in Morocco for Canada and has already posted an NCAA qualifying time of 4:23 in the 1500m as a senior in high school, Carolyn Annis and Laura Turner, who are both high-school Footlocker All-Americans from Florida and Rhode Island respectively, Kate Rinaldi, a Pennsylvania All-State nominee for three years running, and Colleen Flaherty, who, in addition to being a national caliber cross country skier, is also a four time state champion in Minnesota track and two time runner up in cross country.
In short, both the Stanford men and the women anticipate keeping their feet in the door of national preeminence in the 1998 season, a goal which will only be accomplished according to the classic Cardinal curriculum of steady and gritty progress, of concentrating on the means so as not to be distracted by the ends, of speaking softly and carrying a big stick.
About his own formula, it is fitting that Coach Lananna have the last word, "We've taken the natural progressive steps in the past. Rather than hoping we can make the NCAAs, we need to make the assumption that we will qualify for the NCAAs, and that we will be in a position to perform at the highest level each season, often contending for a national title."