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XC Blog: Men’s and women’s cross country advance to national finals

Stanford cross country

With the cross country season coming to a close (mercifully or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), this is likely one of my last blog entries for a while. I just want to say what a pleasure it has been to share our program’s progress over the past few months with The Daily’s readers. As a member of a team that doesn’t enjoy the privilege of regular coverage, I think this space is incredibly valuable because it allows our program’s accomplishments to shine through when they might otherwise go unnoticed.

Stanford cross country
Senior runner Joe Rosa (center) had a solid day at the NCAA West Regionals for the Card, finishing sixth overall. (NICK SALAZAR/ The Stanford Daily)

Anyways, let’s get to the latest action. Since my last post, seven women and seven men – a group that I was fortunate to be a part of – raced at the NCAA West Regional, held at the Stanford Golf Course. There are nine regional meets held across the country, with the top two teams in each race (male and female) securing automatic berths to the upcoming NCAA championships. In addition, the top four individuals not on the auto-qualifying teams also advance to the national championship race, which will be held in Terre Haute, Indiana this year.

After the auto-qualifiers are determined, a committee selects 13 “at-large” teams (a process similar to the selection process for the NCAA basketball tournaments) in each gender to compete at NCAAs; in all, 31 men’s and women’s teams, plus individuals, toe the line at cross country nationals.

With the selection process the way it is, the strategy for teams racing at regionals can vary quite a bit. For our men’s team, Coach Chris Miltenberg implored us to treat the race like a preliminary race at a track meet: expending just enough energy and effort to make it on the next round, all while running composed and in control and executing the race plan.

Since we had likely already secured enough “points” in the eyes of the selection committee to warrant an NCAA berth regardless of our regional result, there was really no need for our squad to run “all out” and attempt to secure a top-two finish. Our women were also a safe bet to advance to NCAAs, though likely not as safe of a bet as the men’s team. Regardless, both Cardinal teams accomplished the goal last Friday and made it to NCAAs.

The women’s race, which covered six kilometers and consisted of several laps around holes 2, 5, 6 and 7 of the famed Stanford Golf Course, pitted familiar foes against one another. Many of the Pac-12 squads fall into the West region’s area, so in many ways the regional meet was a rematch of the conference race a few weeks before. With the addition of strong non-Pac-12 teams like Boise State and Portland, the women’s West regional was indeed a hotly contested battle.

The top individuals were, once again, Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan, Stanford true freshman Elise Cranny and Boise State veteran Emma Bates; like the Pac-12 meet, Houlihan used her combination of elite middle-distance and solid endurance speed to pull away from the field, besting Bates (the 2014 national outdoor track champion in the 10,000 meters) by nearly five seconds and Cranny by 16.

Not far behind Elise was senior Molly McNamara, who has enjoyed an exciting-to-see resurgence over the past year after struggling with injuries in her freshman season. Molly placed 10th, earning All-West Region accolades. Also finishing in the top 25 for Stanford were sophomores Sophie Chase (16th) and Emma Fisher (21st); these two bring such a positive energy to our program, and it was great to see both of them perform well on a big stage. Team-wise, the women finished in a tie for second with Boise State. Although the Broncos broke the tie by virtue of their sixth runner placing higher than Stanford’s sixth runner, both squads will be going to Terre Haute. The Stanford women have now advanced to 22 straight NCAA cross country championships, the best current streak in the nation.

In the men’s race, fifth-year senior Maksim Korolev (we call him Maks) had a great day, out-kicking Oregon sophomore and defending NCAA cross country champ Edward Cheserek over the final 300 meters. Joe Rosa and Mike Atchoo also had great races, with both finishing in the top 25. While our 4-7 runners, myself included, didn’t have a great day, we placed third behind Oregon and Portland (even while running without star sophomore Sean McGorty) and will make the trip to Terre Haute.

This program has made incredible progress this fall, and nationals is just another step in the process. Please wish us luck as we travel back east this week! The women’s race is scheduled for noon (Eastern time) on Saturday, with the men slated to go off an hour later. The races can be streamed live on NCAA.com.

Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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