Nov. 18, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- Monday, November 21, beginning at 9am, the Cardinal cross-country teams will finish off the season at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Both teams have high expectations heading into the meet as Stanford looks to get both teams back on the podium in the same season for the first time since 2006.
The No. 5 Stanford men enter the NCAA meet with a different feeling than previous years. Each of the last two seasons, the Cardinal were the meet favorite or co-favorite, but this year No. 1 Wisconsin and two-time defending champion No. 2 Oklahoma State have that honor.
Flying a little under the radar might suit Stanford just fine, as this will be the most experienced team Stanford has taken to the NCAA meet in years. Of the seven expected to race, five have run the NCAA Cross Country Championships before, including returning All-Americans Chris Derrick and Jacob Riley.
"I don't worry about the competition too much because how well or not-so-well teams have run so far this season is not necessarily an indicator of what is going to happen on Monday," said men's coach Jason Dunn. "We just try to prepare ourselves to be ready to go."
"I think we are as good or better as we have been, but the competition has gotten better too. This team has the potential to have the lowest team score since I have been here. It is just whether that will be good enough."
The Stanford experience starts with four seniors who have combined to run eight NCAA meets in cross country. Derrick, Riley, Brendan Gregg and J.T. Sullivan will each be running their final cross-country race with a Stanford jersey on. For Sullivan it will be his final race of any kind in a Stanford jersey as he has already exhausted his track and field eligibility as well.
"You don't want to get too geeked up about it and put too much pressure on yourself, but I hope that those guys take advantage of this opportunity," said Dunn. "It is one last chance to run cross country for them."
Derrick and Riley will contend up front, as they have for every race either has run the last two years. Last year, the duo ran together finishing fifth and sixth, but that will not necessarily be the strategy this season.
"I want those guys to give us the lowest sticks possible," said Dunn. They are both top-10 finishers and Chris has been three times so we just need them to finish as high as they can. I think it would be great if they can run together, but if they have a chance to challenge for the title then they need to do that."
Derrick will be one of the pre-race favorites for the individual title, although the entire field might be looking up at Arizona freshman sensation Lawi Lelang. Lelang is undefeated this season and really has yet to be tested. However, Derrick is a veteran of the NCAA meet and a 10-time All-American. He is looking to become the first-ever Stanford athlete to win an individual title in cross-country.
"It is a competitive race, but Chris has a lot of experience running up front," said Dunn. "We aren't going to hold him back. I want him to have his highest finish ever and he has been third, so that is a tough goal. I just want him to put himself in position that he can go after the win, but it is a tough field so it won't be completely up to him."
Also expected to run are sophomores Andrew Berberick and Erik Olson and freshman Joe Rosa. Olson has been a key contributor this season and ran last year as a true freshman. Meanwhile, Berberick and Rosa will be making their NCAA debuts. Rosa broke through with a big race, placing 19th at the regional meet as the Cardinal No. 4 runner, while Berberick is a new addition to the lineup this week.
"Berberick has run really well a couple races this season and I feel like he has a good chance to contribute," said Dunn.
"I am excited about Monday. I think that we are coming around at the right time. We have not really had our best race of the season yet, where everyone is firing on all cylinders on the same day. I think if we have a really good day we will be in contention for a trophy."
"Our goal is always be in a position to win the championship and that is something that we still think about. Most importantly, we just want to go out and run well and if we do that we will be in contention."
The No. 13 Cardinal women are also a podium contender, but less is expected from such a young team. However, Stanford has placed third at both the Pac-12 and West Region meets against loaded fields and is gaining experience.
The Cardinal might not have the depth of some of the top teams, but 1-5 it is quite strong if it can get everyone running well on the same day.
"If everyone has a good, solid race, we have a chance to contend for a trophy," said women's coach PattiSue Plumer. "We have had some girls run well in some races, but not the others. We just need to get everyone running well on the same day."
Despite the youth of the team, Stanford is led by a couple of veteran performers. Fifth-year senior Stephanie Marcy will be running her final race in a Stanford jersey, while junior Kathy Kroeger is emerging as one of the top runners in the country.
Marcy has twice been an All-American at 10,000 meters on the track and will be looking for her first All-America honor in cross country. Kroeger will be entering the NCAA cross country meet the healthiest she ever has been and will look to show the form of the NCAA track meets where she has twice been an All-American at 5,000 meters.
Other veterans of the NCAAs are Jessica Tonn and Emilie Amaro. Tonn was 96th at last year's meet and has been a solid No. 3 or No. 4 runner for the Cardinal throughout her career. She will play a major factor for the Cardinal on Monday. Amaro had a big freshman season back in 2008, but has battled injury since. She ran well at regionals and appears to finally be healthy and regaining form of her freshman season.
The rest of the Cardinal is composed of newcomers, including three freshmen. Aisling Cuffe is the U.S. Junior champion and has stepped right into the Cardinal lineup this season. She was the No. 3 runner at regionals for the Cardinal and should be one of the top freshmen in the NCAAs. Also heading to Terre Haute are freshmen Mary Kate Anselmini and Alli Billmeyer, along with junior Claire Durkin. Durkin has been the No. 5 runner since joining the team this fall after three years away from competitive running.
Anselmini, Billmeyer and Amaro are in consideration for the final two spots, but the lineup has yet to be decided.
"I haven't decided on the seven that will run yet," said Plumer. "I don't have to decide until the last minute and I will probably use all that time."
The inexperience of the Cardinal is a concern, although the freshmen have now had a full season to adjust to college racing. However, the NCAAs are a new beast as the size and depth of the field is unmatched during the regular season.
"For these girls that are used to running at the front of the pack, it is difficult to get in such a large race and realize that just because you aren't out front, you are still having a good race," said Plumer. "I just have emphasized that they need to get out and not get stuck in the back of the pack. The field is too talented to try to race from behind."
"I just want to end the season with each runner finishing the race and being very satisfied with their performance. I think if we do that the result will take care of itself."