The Stanford men’s and women’s cross country teams each placed fourth on Saturday at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, marking the first time since 2006 that both teams have placed on the podium.
Junior Grant Fisher led the men’s team with a fifth place finish, clocking in a time of 29:12 for the 10k course. Fisher’s performance earned him his third consecutive All-American honors, which is given to the top 40 finishers in the race. Junior Alex Ostberg and senior Steven Fahy also earned All-American honors after placing 16th and 17th, respectively.
The men collectively scored 221 points, placing them fourth behind BYU’s 165 points, Portland’s 127 and Northern Arizona’s 74. With five in the top 40, including three in the top eight, Northern Arizona repeated as national champions, while Syracuse senior Justyn Knight won his first NCAA cross country title.
The Cardinal women also placed fourth and were led by sophomore Fiona O’Keeffe’s 13th place performance. O’Keeffe covered the 6k course in 19:49, earning her second All-American honors after placing 37th last year. Senior Vanessa Fraser placed 27th, also earning All-American honors. New Mexico sophomore Ednah Kurget outpaced the field by eight seconds to claim the individual crown and lead her team to a national title.
The Cardinal women scored 165 points with all five scorers in the top 70, which marks the team’s highest finish since placing third in 2012. The women placed fifth last year and 14th the year before.
“Coming from fifth to fourth, we’re such a better team than we were last year. It’s nice to be able to come home with a trophy,” said women’s head coach Elizabeth DeBole.
Stanford stood alone in the results as the only school to have both teams finish on the podium.
“We were the only program with both teams on the podium today,” said men’s head coach Chris Miltenberg. “This speaks to the culture that our men and our women have built together, that we can be solid every time we’re out here. The men didn’t hit a home run today, but we ran really solid and that’s what you had to do to get on the podium. If we can do that year after year after year, eventually we’re going to win one.”
In the men’s race, Fisher was in 33rd place after the first 2k and 21st at the 4k mark. Although he continued to close the gap on the front pack, Fisher decided not to challenge the lead runners and risk losing points.
“I knew right away that we were moving pretty quickly,” said Fisher. “I didn’t end up winning the matchups that I’d hoped, but wanted to be a reliable finish for my team.”
“The gap did open up a little bigger than I’d hoped. I knew if I tried to close it down by myself and fighting the wind out there might have dropped me back. I wanted not to take a big risk and do what I could for my team. They were depending on me to get top 10 so I hoped to get that done for them,” said Fisher, who placed fifth both this year and last year.
With Ostberg and Fahy both finishing in the top 20, the men’s team was well represented in the front of the race. Both seemed to pace off of each other as they crossed every split no more than a second or two apart.
“After Pac-12’s, Steven and I knew that we were in the race because of our fitness level, and the way we run the last 2K is very comparable,” said Ostberg. “And having somebody to run side by side with over the last 2K is immensely helpful. And it just speaks to what a teammate really is.”
“I’m lucky to have Alex and the other guys to work with too, but it’s really a product of all the guys, Sam, Garrett Sweatt, Sean, and all the guys who have set the example,” said Fahy. “I think it’s been our depth this year and having every single guy on the roster buy in and help us go on the podium even though it’s not a perfect day.”
“It really is a testament to all 20-25 guys we have out there,” said Fahy.
All seven runners that represented the men’s team will return next season.
“These guys got fourth with an effort as good as any team we’ve ever put forward has, and they’re all back next year. It’s exciting to see where this thing goes,” said Miltenberg.
The Cardinal women entered Saturday’s race focusing on closing strong over the final kilometers of the race. All five scorers improved their positioning over the final stretch, including sophomore Ella Donaghu who moved up from 103rd place at the 4k mark to 69th place at the finish, coming in as the team’s fifth scorer.
“We executed well,” said Debole.” We said we were going to own that back 2K and be really tough back there. I think all of them moved up back there. It was a good day.”
In her final season as a Cardinal, senior Abbie McNulty wanted to emphasize the importance of giving every race the same 100 percent effort.
“Regardless of the results, it was important to show these girls and even myself about giving it that same effort every time I toe the line,” said McNulty. “One of our missions is to go into every race with the same mentality. Run nationals the same way you would run the first race of the season.”
“I’m very happy with how we progressed. Even two years ago we were 14th and it’s really great seeing how far we’ve come in two years, and how far we’re going to go,” said McNulty.
Unlike the men’s team, the women’s team will lose Fraser and McNulty to graduation, leaving behind a relatively young team.
“I’m so glad we get to finish this way, and I know that they can do it and win it the next couple of years,” said McNulty. “Though I’m sad we don’t get to do it while I’m still here.”
“Next year, we lose Vanessa and Abbie, but they’ve definitely left the program way better than when they found it,” said DeBole. “We’re just going to keep getting better.”
With the addition of several redshirt freshmen, including Nevada Moreno and DJ Principe, and a strong recruiting class, both programs look to only improve in the coming years.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.