This past weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Stanford faced challenging odds, and not many in its favor. With much fanfare, fourteen Cardinal athletes traveled the 1,820 miles to Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas on Wednesday to join in a gathering of the speediest and strongest runners in the country, all within the top-16 performers in the country in their respective events.
For Stanford, only three of the thirteen runners who competed in last year’s championship meet returned this year for a second go, a fact that emphasized not only the relatively small size of the Stanford track program, but also the youth of the team after the loss of so many valuable seniors last year.
Whereas last year the Stanford men finished in 11th-place with 21 points, this year the Cardinal finished in 30th-place with seven points. This season it proved impossible to replace the reliability and endurance of graduated seniors like Chris Derrick, Brendan Gregg, and Jake Riley, all runners that helped Stanford dominate the 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Championships in years past.
The drop off for the women’s team was even more pronounced: it failed to score any points at all, landing in 53rd place after finishing in 13th place a year ago. One contributing factor to the drop in ranking was the early season injury of senior Kathy Kroeger.
Kroeger, who finished sixth in the 3,000 meters and 10th in the 5,000 meters last NCAA Championship, returned to the track just in time to prepare her for her leg in the women’s Distance Medley Relay this past weekend.
The weekend did yield one shining moment among many tough races: senior Tyler Stutzman’s performance in the mile. On Friday night in the mile preliminaries, Stutzman and junior teammate Michael Atchoo finished 7th and 8th to barely make the finals cut-off.
But in the Saturday night final, the 11th-seeded Stutzman came back with a vengeance and a fantastic time of 3:59.70. He placed fourth, behind runners from Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Atchoo, his fifth-seeded teammate, landed a solid eighth-place finish at 4:04.92.
Atchoo and Stutzman ran in the men’s Distance Medley Relay (DMR) no less than three hours after their mile final, along with senior Spencer Chase and sophomore Luke Lefebure. Lefebure and Atchoo both ran in Stanford’s fourth place finishing DMR in the 2012 NCAA Championships, but they failed to convert their experience into a strong DMR this time around. This time, the men finished eighth with a time of 9:39.22, 11 seconds slower than their seed time and three seconds slower than their time in 2012.
In the field events, Stanford did not score. Senior high-jumper Jules Sharpe placed 13th with a jump of 7 feet, 2.5 inches — an inch below his personal best. Shot-putter Alyssa Wisdom, who recently earned her first All-American honors, was initially seeded 10th, but could not record a legal score, finishing with three fouls.
Freshman Amy Weissenbach was one of very few underclassmen to qualify for the championships. In the 800-meter preliminaries on Friday night, Weissenbach barely missed the cut-off for the finals when she placed ninth in a time of 2:05.56.
The top three in each heat plus the next two fastest overall qualify. Weissenbach finished fourth in her heat and third-fastest of the non-automatic qualifiers, just missing on both counts, but her consistent performances this winter are a good sign for both the upcoming outdoor season and her future career as a Cardinal runner.
Juniors Jessica Tonn and Kori Carter, in their first career appearances at the NCAA championships, finished 15th and 14th in their respective events. Carter, who holds the Stanford record in the 60-meter hurdles and recently claimed first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation 200-meter championships, finished with a 60-meter hurdle time of 8.29 seconds. Tonn completed the 5,000 meters in 16:10.42.
The women’s DMR improved slightly in its position, as it beat University of Connecticut in 11:14.77 to finish one place ahead of its No. 12 seed in 11th place.
Stanford returns to action for the outdoor season with the Cal Multis in Berkeley on March 27.
Contact Anna Blue at ablue “at” stanford.edu.