On Friday morning, the top cross country programs on the West Coast showed down in Sacramento, California, for the NCAA Division I West Regionals. The West Coast is notorious for being home to some of the top talent across the country and this year’s race did not disappoint.
In the men’s race, Stanford’s No. 5 men’s team finished fourth (110 points) behind third place finisher No. 9 Boise State (102), runner-up No. 7 Washington (82), and regional winner No. 4 Portland (77). The No. 6 women scored 95 points, finishing behind runner-up No. 3 Boise State (49) and No. 2 Oregon (44), who took the regional crown.
Only the top two teams in each race received automatic bids to the national championships. However, the Cardinal men and women received at-large selections, qualifying for the big dance for the 25th consecutive year.
The top five scorers for the Cardinal men, led by junior Alex Ostberg (15th) and two time Pac-12 champion senior Grant Fisher (16th), all finished within 12 seconds of each other after traversing the 10-kilometer (6.21-mile) flat course on a very conservative pace.
“I think we ran too conservative for too long,” head coach Chris Miltenberg said. “In an effort to make it easy, we stayed really conservative, never engaging in the dog fight, which from a recovery perspective is great. But even when you do that, it doesn’t feel good.”
With a second 10-kilometer race waiting for the Cardinal next weekend, the men’s team approached the regionals race anticipating a slower performance, allowing for full recovery ahead of the championship race seven days later. However, the team had a slower day than expected, according to Miltenberg, who found Friday’s race to be a reminder that the team flourishes when the race is tough.
“Our team is at its best when it’s hard. We tried to be somebody that we are not on Friday, which is a team that wants it to be easy and feel good,” Miltenberg said. “We love when it’s hard. Let’s get excited when it’s hard.”
Despite Friday’s dull performance, Miltenberg expects the men to bounce back and have a much stronger showing next weekend.
“I’m really glad we had that inflection point because in years past we’ve gone to the regionals meet and won the thing. Sometimes that gives you a false sense going into the next week,” Miltenberg said. “Nationals is always hard. I like that it went this way for us and now we mentally prepare for it to be tough out there.”
On the women’s side, fifth year Elise Cranny (4th) and junior Fiona O’Keeffe (5th) led the women to a third place finish. The two veterans have been leading the women’s squad all season.
Cranny and O’Keeffe “vibe off each other. Having them near each other is good thing. I think they gain a lot of confidence from that,” women’s coach Elizabeth DeBole said.
The women approached Friday’s regional race with the hopes of having another consistent performance. Consistency has been one of DeBole’s central themes this season.
“We were really happy with our performance. It was a really solid effort. We’ve been saying it all year: We don’t need to hit anything out of the park, we just need to be solid every time,” said DeBole. “It was a good solid effort over the weekend and that’s what we’re looking for next weekend.”
Sophomore Jess Lawson received her first All-Region distinction on Friday after finishing 24th. Cranny and O’Keeffe also received the honor.
Sophomores Julia Heymach (31st) and Jordan Oakes (36th) rounded out the Cardinal’s top five. Both of them will be representing the Cardinal at the national championships for the first time next weekend.
The men’s and women’s team will be using this week to recover and prepare for the big dance in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday. Specifically, all athletes had massages over the weekend and have been focusing on recovery.
The team will travel on Wednesday in advance of the national meet this upcoming weekend. On Saturday, the women’s 6-kilometer championship race will start at 10:45 AM (CST) followed by the men’s 10-kilometer race at 11:45 AM (CST). Results and live coverage can be found online.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu