After the No. 6 Cardinal men placed fourth and the No. 14 women finished eighth at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitation earlier this month, both Stanford cross-country teams will head up to the Springfield Golf Club in Eugene, Oregon, to toe the line at Friday’s Pac-12 Cross Country Championships.
Since joining the conference in 2011, Colorado has won the Pac-12 men’s title every year, a streak of six titles, which ties them with Stanford for the longest consecutive winning streak in conference history. Stanford won their own six consecutive titles from 2000-2005. Despite Colorado’s recent success, the Cardinal men have the longest podium-finish streak in the conference with 22 consecutive podium finishes beginning in 1995.
On the women’s side, Stanford has accumulated the most Pac-12 Cross-Country titles with 15 including 12 consecutive victories from 1996-2007. In last year’s race, the Cardinal women finished third behind Colorado and Washington.
The men’s race will feature a new field in the front with the graduation of former Oregon runner Edward Cheserek, who won this race each of the last four years.
“The entire race will be a different atmosphere because for the last four years Edward has dominated the entire race,” said junior Grant Fisher, who finished runner-up to Cheserek last year. “Everyone has taken a backseat and watched what he would do, and he would dictate a lot of the races that would happen. This year, it’s kind of wide open in that sense because he has graduated.”
Despite a different field in the front, head men’s coach Chris Miltenberg recognizes Fisher’s strategy shouldn’t change much. He said, “With Grant it comes back to doing what he does well, which is executing with composure, patience and really building intensity over the last mile.”
In terms of strategy, the Cardinal men are planning to use the same pack-focused strategy that they have relied on all season. “I think something we have this year that we haven’t had in the past is a very solid pack. At Wisconsin, we had a bunch of guys that were sticking with each other the whole race and using each other to help move up,” said Fisher. “I think that’s really important, and that’s something we’ve never had in the past, at least while I’ve been on the team.”
Along with Fisher as a front runner, sophomore Alex Ostberg has recently been running towards the front of the pack. At Wisconsin, Ostberg finished in 12th place and 15 seconds behind Fisher.
“I was lucky enough to have Alex up there with me in my last race, and hopefully he’s up there again,” said Fisher. “I think we can build off of each other’s energy.”
The Cardinal men also have a strong pack that includes freshman Callum Bolger, sophomore Alek Parsons and seniors Tai Dinger, Steven Fahy and Blake Hurlock. Fifth year seniors Sam Wharton and Jack Keelan will also be racing this weekend, according to Miltenberg. Given the depth of the team, any one of these runners or others could potentially score for Stanford.
“I think we’re leaving home guys that could make a real impact and that’s exciting when you think of how much depth we have,” said Miltenberg. “I think our strength is our depth.”
For the Cardinal women, head women’s coach Elizabeth DeBole recognizes the Wisconsin race “was not an A plus day.” Rather, it was a learning experience that allowed the women to have an “honest but necessary conversation about attitude and team chemistry,” according to senior Abbie McNulty.
After placing eighth in Wisconsin, the women’s team turned their focus to adjusting their team chemistry. “We’re a lot better than what that race showed,” said McNulty, who finished third for Stanford at the meet. “Just this past week after Wisconsin after focusing on what didn’t really go so well, we’ve really made some adjustments in attitude going into Pac-12s.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s race, DeBole hopes her team can gain a sense of momentum from the race. For freshmen Jessica Lawson, Jordan Oakes and Julia Heymach, Wisconsin was their first collegiate race with over 300 runners, which can be difficult to adjust to, according to DeBole.
DeBole hopes to see her team gain momentum from Pac-12’s, especially since the field is smaller than Wisconsin and the team’s approach to the race is heavily centered around running as a team. “If we can come out [of Friday’s race] with positive momentum, that would be a big thing for the team,” she said.
Both coaches have stressed a team-focused ideology that centers around the idea of working as a holistic unit. “Everybody counts,” said Debole. “Even if you aren’t coming to the start line, you still have an impact on the 10 runners that line up.”
On the men’s side, Miltenberg said, “We have 16 guys that have really bought into the idea of everyone one of us matters … Every person knows our 16th guy makes Grant Fisher better. They’re not competing for spots, they are thinking how do we move this team forward. That’s what you want a team to be made of.”
With this team-oriented ideology, both the men’s and the women’s team will look to make strong appearances this weekend. Both races will be televised live nationally on Pac-12 Network for the first time. The women’s race is scheduled to start at 11:10 a.m. followed by the men’s race at 12:10 p.m.