When senior All-Americans Chris Derrick and Jacob Riley crossed the finish line at the first-ever Pac-12 Cross Country Championships in second and fourth place, respectively, it appeared as though the men’s cross country team was in control of the first-ever Pac-12 title in any sport on Saturday (the women’s soccer team has clinched the conference title but not officially won it).
When redshirt senior Brendan Gregg and sophomore Erik Olson came through in 10th and 12th places—both ahead of Colorado’s fourth-place runner—the course announcer noted that it looked like No. 4 Stanford had all but sealed up its third-straight conference title.
But you need five scores to count, and as runner after runner came by, the Cardinal was nowhere to be found. Freshman Joe Rosa finally crossed the line in 25th place to complete Stanford’s scoring, but it was too little, too late. In a finish that was even tighter on the course than it was on paper, the Buffaloes took the men’s team title with 46 points, seven better than Stanford’s total of 53.
The women’s race, held just minutes later, was almost as close as the men’s, and once again, the Cardinal came up just short. No. 16 Colorado put on its best showing of the year and surprised a loaded field, slipping past No. 2 Washington by 23 points while Stanford finished in third place, 25 points off the pace.
Junior Kathy Kroeger continued to build on her success this season with a second-place finish, covering the 6-kilometer course in 19:40 and knocking off heavy pre-race favorite Jordan Hasay of Oregon, who finished third.
And similar to the men’s race, the Cardinal was right in the thick of things after the first few runners. Redshirt senior Stephanie Marcy placed seventh in her final conference meet, and sophomore Jessica Tonn placed 11th with some support from fans in her hometown of Phoenix.
That put Stanford one point behind Colorado’s top three runners, and freshman Aisling Cuffe was closing hard for the fourth spot that would have put the pressure on the Buffs to respond. But Cuffe pulled up in the final straightaway and might have lost seven or eight spots—including four to Washington and Colorado runners—struggling the final 30 yards to finish 24th.
From there, however, the gap to Stanford’s fifth runner was too large, and although redshirt junior Claire Durkin capped the scoring with her 31st-place finish—an impressive Stanford debut for the 2007 Gatorade Cross Country Athlete of the Year from Ohio who chose not to run in her first three years on the Farm and returned to the Cardinal distance program this fall—the damage was done.
Head coach PattiSue Plumer was pleased with the effort, despite the end result.
“It was a really good race, particularly up front,” she told GoStanford.com. “We were so close to second, but I guess we just edged Washington last year, so they returned the favor this year. It was Colorado’s day though; they ran great today.”
The Buffaloes record-setting day left a bad taste in the mouths of Stanford’s runners, particularly on the men’s side.
Derrick, who went out with the lead pack at a blistering pace, nearly chased down Arizona’s freshman sensation Lawi Lalang over the final kilometer of the race, and his time of 22:45 is one of the top times in the country this year. But the 10-time All-American was disappointed that the team couldn’t seal the deal down the stretch.
“It kind of sucks to not win as a team,” he said after the race. “It looked like it was okay, it was going to be close. [After the finish], I went over to the Arizona State television, and when I came back over I saw everyone with their heads down, and I figured the worst had happened.”
One thing that really hurt the Cardinal was the loss of Ben Johnson during the race. The senior had consistently been running as Stanford’s No. 3, but he failed to finish the race in hot conditions at the Wigwam Golf Course, and in his absence, none of the other team members could quite close the gap.
Redshirt senior JT Sullivan finished 29th, junior Miles Unterreiner was 32nd and Riley Sullivan was 52nd, while Andrew Berberick also did not complete the course.
“[The loss] has to be more motivating,” Derrick said. “I don’t think it affects how badly we want to win a national title, but maybe it affects how we approach things.”
Both Stanford teams will get another shot at redemption at the NCAA West Regionals in two weeks, where they could have a home-course advantage with the race to be held at the Stanford Golf Course on Saturday, Nov. 12. The NCAA Championships are looming, as they are scheduled for Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.