The Pac-12 Championship brought out the best in both Stanford cross country teams on Saturday, as they scored 82 points each to earn top-three finishes at the Robinson Ranch Golf Course in Santa Clarita, Calif.
In the women’s 6-kilometer race, Arizona junior Elvin Kibet and Oregon freshman Allie Woodward pushed the pace early, but other top runners including Stanford senior Kathy Kroeger and Oregon senior Jordan Hasay did not let them break away. The last kilometer was an all-out sprint in which Kroeger finally captured the elusive individual Pac-12 title—Stanford’s first since 2007—edging out Hasay by four seconds, 20:06 to 20:10. Kibet finished third (20:11) and Woodward came in fifth (20:16), behind senior teammate Alexi Pappas (20:12).
The No. 3 Oregon women (47 points) captured their first team title since 1995, beating out No. 5 Arizona (69) and No. 4 Stanford (82). Led by Kroeger’s victory, the Cardinal women also received a top-10 finish from sophomore Aisling Cuffe, who came in 10th overall (20:32). Stanford’s top five was rounded out by Jessica Tonn in 13th (20:37), Cayla Hatton in 22nd (20:52) and Megan Lacy in 37th (21:25).
After the race, a Pac-12 official interviewed head coach Chris Miltenberg to ask for his reaction to Kroeger’s victory.
“I’m so proud of her,” he said. “You know, it’s her last Pac-12s. Yesterday she said, ‘I want to win.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s work on how we’re going to run the race, and if we win that’ll be the outcome. And let’s work on how we’re going to execute it.’ She did a great job with working on all the things we talked about that are really going to help her a lot at NCAAs in three weeks. Stanford coming home, Kathy, Pac-12 champion.”
Kroeger herself talked about the strategy early in the race, when Kibet and Woodward tried to break away. “I tried to stay paced in and stay composed and tucked in there and just wait for a chance.”
As the race unfolded, Kroeger said there was no reason to leave anything in the tank. “I was just giving it all I had,” she said. “I knew it was…almost finished and it ended up just being me and Jordan on the home stretch, and I had a little bit left in my legs. It’s not too often I’m able to chase down Jordan Hasay, but today I was able to so it was really fun.”
Coming down to the finish line in first place was a dream come true for the senior who had finished second at Pac-12s the last two seasons. “I knew I could do it today if the right situation played out, and it did,” she said. “I got lucky and had a little bit of legs left at the end.”
The men’s 8-kilometer race, on the other hand, did not have as much excitement at the finish. Early on, the heavily favored Arizona duo of Lawi Lalang and Stephen Sambu broke away from the main pack, challenged only by Oregon runners Trevor Dunbar and Parker Stinson. In the second third of the race, they dropped the Ducks as well. Lalang defended his individual title by finishing one second ahead of his teammate, 22:49 to 22:50. Dunbar and Stinson came in next with the same time of 23:28. The Cardinal men had two top-10 finishes, from Joe Rosa in sixth (23:35) and Benjamin Johnson in 10th (23:43).
In the team competition, No. 2 Colorado dominated with its effective pack running scoring just 49 points to defend its title, beating No.3 Stanford (82 points) and No.8 Oregon (105 points). The Buffaloes, led by Blake Theroux in 7th (23:40), had 6 runners in the top 15, who were separated by only 10 seconds. The rest of the top five for the Cardinal men were comfortably in the top 30—Tyler Stutzman 17th (24:03), Miles Unterreiner 20th (24:10) and Erik Olson 29th (24:18).
Overall, the Cardinal performed well at Santa Clarita, as it continues to build toward the West Regional in two weeks and the NCAA Championship in three. Both teams will end their regular seasons next Saturday at the Doc Adams Invitational in Davis, Calif.