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Cross country emphasizes teamwork for NCAA Regional championships
Senior Vanessa Fraser keeps up a solid pace as she looks to speed past opponents. Fraser, joined by both new and returning runners, helped the women's cross country team earn a first place in the NCAA West regionals. (JOHN TODD/isiphotos.com)

Cross country emphasizes teamwork for NCAA Regional championships

Stanford’s No. 4 men’s and No. 7 women’s cross country teams will compete in the NCAA West Regional championships this Friday in Sacramento.

Both teams are coming off of stellar performances two weeks ago in the Pac-12 Championship, in which the men placed second and the women placed third. The top finishers in each field for the Cardinal were Grant Fisher and Vanessa Fraser, who placed second and eighth, respectively.

On the men’s side, 40 teams will race, including No. 12 Portland, No. 10 Oregon and No. 8 UCLA. Although the Cardinal are the highest-ranked team in this race, head coach Chris Miltenberg has decided to remove freshmen Thomas Ratcliffe and Alex Ostberg (who were runners No. 3 and No. 6 in Tucson) from the lineup in order to rest them ahead of the National Championships on Nov. 12.

Miltenberg is confident that his team can qualify even while resting its younger runners, as he said that the team is “not depending on one guy to do anything great.”

According to him, the assets of men’s team this year are balance and depth.

“The good thing is, we only run seven guys, but with Blair Hurlock and Alex Ostberg, we really have nine,” Miltenberg said.

Last season, the Stanford men finished second at the regional championships. Three runners – Sean McGorty, Jim Rosa and Joe Rosa – finished at the same time to nab sixth, seventh and eighth place.

This year, the Cardinal men plan to adopt a similar strategy of grouping runners. McGorty highlights that individual placement is less of a focus.

“The priority is making sure we get ready for the national meet a week later,” Miltenberg said.

The women’s race will also feature top-ranked teams such as No. 4 Washington, No. 10 Portland and No. 11 Oregon. Last year, Stanford finished fourth behind both Washington and Oregon. However, the Cardinal finished ahead of the Ducks in Tucson, and expect to repeat the achievement. In 2015, Sophie Chase and Julia Maxwell led the Cardinal, finishing 15th and 18th, respectively.

This year, regional competitors will have an eye out for Stanford senior runners Vanessa Fraser and Danielle Katz, the top finishers two weeks ago. However, the Cardinal are also looking expectantly at Fiona O’Keeffe, a freshman who finished third on the team to claim the 11th place overall.

The focus on this race, however, is group qualification, not individual achievement. Head coach Elizabeth DeBole thinks that her runners “are really feeding of the energy of each other,” and have undergone a boost in confidence after their great race in Tucson two weeks ago. The goal is to use this race to keep improving the team dynamic.

According to DeBole, the real focus of the women’s team will be on the middle of the race.

“We really have to weather that storm from 3 to 4k and 4 to 5k,” she said.

However, the team seems very confident that it can get through the tough middle of the race and finish strong. Fraser suggested that the team’s depth really makes a difference.

“It’s really a confidence booster to see Stanford jerseys around you when you are having a tough time,” she said.

Both Miltenberg and DeBole are focusing foremost on Stanford success as a group in this race, not on individual standouts. With this goal in mind, the depth and balance of both teams will be essential, especially against a competition field stacked with some of the quickest teams in the Pac-12.

 

Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu.