With clear skies and temperatures around 80 degrees, conditions were perfect as the men’s and women’s cross country teams opened their respective seasons at home on Saturday morning at the Stanford Invitational. With a little help from All-Americans Chris Derrick and Kathy Kroeger, both Cardinal teams kicked off the year in style, sweeping both the individual and team titles.
It appeared as though the Cardinal was in a bit of trouble in the men’s race. While the quartet of senior Derrick, fellow senior Jacob Riley, sophomore Erik Olson and redshirt junior Ben Johnson were up front from start to finish, there was a sizeable gap to the fifth Stanford runner, Tyler Valdes, three miles into the 8-kilometer race.
UCLA looked to take advantage of the schism, pushing the pace with its own fivesome and holding a slight edge over the Cardinal in what quickly shaped up as a two-team race.
“Our original plan was to go out and stay in a pretty close pack with the whole team,” Riley said. “But the race went out pretty brisk, and it being the first race for a lot of the freshmen and also being at home made it a little more difficult to do that.”
Valdes, however, rose to the occasion and moved through the field over the final two miles, passing many runners who couldn’t keep up with the front-runners’ quick pace. The redshirt sophomore finished 17th in a personal-best 24:27, giving Stanford a 25-point victory over the Bruins.
Riley was pleased with how the team performed in its first race of the season, particularly since head cross country coach Jason Dunn held several Cardinal runners out in order to rest them for next week’s race at Notre Dame.
“Overall, it was a solid performance, but by no means are we content,” Riley said after the race. “It was the first meet of the season, and anything that happens here isn’t necessarily going to make or break the year.”
The highly anticipated debut of freshmen twins Joe and Jim Rosa was a success, with Joe finishing in 24:23 and Jim in 24:52. And the back end of Stanford’s lineup came on strong, with redshirt sophomores Travis Edwards and Kenny Krotzer crossing the line in 40th and 51st places, respectively.
On the girls’ side, junior All-American Kroeger defended her individual title on the relatively flat course in 20:07, one second off her winning time from last year. She pulled away from freshman Aisling Cuffe, who was making her collegiate debut for the Cardinal, in the final 800 meters. But the real story might have been the sheer depth on display for Stanford–three freshmen finished inside the top 16, and coach PattiSue Plumer has six of her top seven runners back from last year’s team.
Both squads are looking to improve on their performances from the 2010 NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., when the top-ranked men’s team slipped to fourth and the No. 7 women’s team fell to 13th.
This year, two-time defending champions Oklahoma State returns most of its top runners and will likely be the frontrunner throughout the season, giving Stanford a chance to fly a little more under the radar. But expectations from the team are as high as ever.
“Our goal is definitely to win a national championship,” Riley said. “Other teams are going to be good, and we need to focus on being as strong as we can be as a team. But I think we would be disappointed to go home without a title.”
The women will not travel to next week’s Notre Dame Invitational, but both teams will be back in action on Oct. 14 at the Wisconsin Invitational, which might be the country’s most competitive regular-season meet of the year.