By Kit Ramgopal
This weekend marks the first time the Stanford Cross Country team will really flex its muscles on the national competition scene in 2016, as the Cardinal men compete at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Friday and the women take on Pre-Nationals on Saturday. Both teams will be utilizing the full strength of their rosters for the first time, debuting a formidable mix of recruiting gems and Olympic hopefuls in a hope to increase national standings.
This marks the Stanford men’s fourth time at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, which pits some of the top programs in the country against one another on the starting line for a chance to improve their NCAA qualifying chances. Stanford men were the preseason No. 4 pick, but the team has dropped in standings after two races to claim the No. 11 spot as of this week. That could change after this weekend, since this meet will be the first time the Stanford team will be competing with the full strength of its roster.
Senior Sean McGorty and sophomore Grant Fisher will be back for the first time since competing in the Olympic Track and Field Trials in July. Their presence on the course might be exactly what Stanford needs to shift the competitive balance against tough opponents. This invitational attracts the commanding presence of programs like No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 2 Syracuse, No.3 BYU and No. 7 Portland.
Last year, McGorty claimed third place overall, although the Stanford ended the invitational in the 21st place as a team. This year, however, the Stanford roster is bursting at the seams with speed; the team has its eyes on the national championship next month.
On Saturday, at the NCAA champion course in Terre Haute, Indiana, Stanford women’s cross country will compete at Pre-Nationals against eight teams ranked among the top 22, four of which are in the top 10. Stanford women hover at No. 7 nationally and will no doubt have their eyes on No. 2 Colorado, No. 5 Portland and No. 9 Oregon on Saturday — particularly reigning steeplechase champion Erin Clark from Colorado and Roy Griak Invitational winner Katie Rainsberger from Oregon. Stanford hasn’t won this meet since consecutive wins in 2006 and 2007 — wins which correctly anticipated NCAA championships in both years.
However, this Saturday will be the first time that many of the Stanford women will run on a NCAA champion course. The meet will be the debut of three members of Stanford’s top-ranked freshman class — Christina Aragon, Ella Donaghu and Hannah DeBalsi.
Christina Aragon reached the U.S. Olympic Trials semifinals in the 1,500 and was the first American woman to medal at the World Under-20 Championships with a third-place finish. Donaghu was the seventh-fastest high school 1,500 runner ever (4:14:11) and won second place at Nike Cross Nationals in 2014. DeBalsi was a 9:55 two-miler in high school, who was the 2014 New Balance Outdoor Nationals two-mile champion.
To top off this explosive foundation of freshman speed, All-American junior Elise Cranny will ride the momentum of her first-place finish of the Stanford Invitational when she races against top cross country competition for the first time since the 2015 NCAA race, where she placed 11th.
Follow the results of the meets at gostanford.com, if you can keep up.
Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.