Stanford’s men’s and women’s track and field teams broke multiple records this past weekend at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Championships in Seattle, WA, as the Cardinal sought last chance bids to the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 8 and 9 in Birmingham, AL.
Women’s 3,000 meters
After a cross country season that saw the Cardinal struggle through adversity, culminating in a fifth-place NCAA finish for both the men’s and women’s teams, Stanford’s distance program shined bright this weekend. Perhaps the most impressive performance came from junior Fiona O’Keeffe. The three-time All-American displayed her wheels on Saturday, setting a new MPSF meet record (8:58.58) in the 3,000 meters as she repeated as the MPSF Champion.
O’Keeffe shattered the previous meet record (9:02.35) by four seconds set by Cal’s Deborah Maier in 2012. With the No. 2 time in program history in the event, only PattiSue Plumer (8:53.1) holds a faster time in Stanford’s record book, which she set in 1983.
Only the top 16 individuals in each event are invited to the championships. The California native solidified her spot for nationals for the second consecutive year after her performance moved her into the top 10 in the NCAA. At last year’s indoor championships, she finished 10th in the event. With another year of experience under her legs, including a cross country season that saw her finish 17th at NCAAs in November, she returns to nationals as one of the top contenders in the event.
Distance medley relay
On the men’s side, the distance medley relay (DMR) highlighted Friday’s performance for the Cardinal. Returning to the oval for the first time since the UW Invitational on Jan. 25, the DMR team — composed of junior Isaac Cortes, sophomore Louis Stenmark and seniors Alex Ostberg and Grant Fisher — defended their NCAA qualifying time. Unlike the individual events, only the top 12 relay teams are invited to the championships. Ranked No. 12 in the nation, the Cardinal clinched their spot to Birmingham after holding off No. 13 BYU.
In the final leg of the race, Fisher grabbed the baton with a three-second deficit to BYU’s anchor Matt Owens. Fisher’s experience was on display Friday night as his strategic, patient race plan proved victorious yet again. With 600 meters left, he caught up to Owens and proceed to draft behind him.
As the duo entered the final lap on Dempsey’s 307-meter indoor track, the nine-time All-American surged past Owens, increasing his lead as he approached the tape. Stanford clocked 9:31.39, securing the last spot to the NCAA Championships as BYU finished runner-up in 9:37.94.
The DMR has historically been one of Stanford’s strong suits at nationals. This season, however, has proved to be one of the more competitive years to qualify, especially for the women.
The Cardinal women have struggled all season in the DMR after the graduating class left a void in this event, tasking a relatively young team to fill. At the UW Invitational, junior Ella Donaghu, senior Missy Mongiovi and sophomores Carolyn Wilson and Jess Lawson all made their collegiate debuts in the event, finishing with a time of 11:04.47, which would place them on the bubble for nationals and begin a season-long pursuit of an NCAA qualifying performance.
Three weeks later, an all-sophomore squad — composed of Julia Heymach, Ashlan Best, Wilson and Lawson — competed at the Alex Wilson Invitational in search of a better time. The Cardinal got what they asked for, but just barely. The sophomores posted a time of 11:04.30, only 0.17 seconds faster than their performance three weeks earlier.
With the season quickly coming to a close, this past weekend offered the women one last chance to qualify for nationals. Lawson, Wilson, Best and O’Keeffe composed a relay team that had their eyes set on breaking the 11-minute barrier, which would place them in the top 12 in the country, advancing them to nationals. Oregon was also looking for an NCAA bid, leading to a Duck chase around the oval. However, the Cardinal struggled to match Oregon’s strength and experience.
Anchored by senior Jessica Hull, the third-place finisher at the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Oregon’s DMR team crossed in 10:57.87, which would place them seventh in the country and qualify them for the NCAAs. The Cardinal would finish five seconds later with a time of 11:02.50, good for 15th in the country but just shy of an NCAA bid.
Despite falling short of season hopes, all four Cardinal women return to next year’s indoor squad. Additionally, the outdoor season this spring will offer the women more opportunities to improve their DMR time.
Perhaps the most impressive Cardinal of the weekend was graduate student Isaiah Brandt-Sims, who broke two school records in two days. In Friday’s 60-meter dash prelims, Brandt-Sims finished runner-up in his heat, crossing in 6.71 seconds, which shattered the previous school record (6.79) he set earlier this season at the UW Invitational. The veteran returned on Saturday for the final, in which he placed fifth overall (6.73) amongst a competitive field.
Two hours later, Brandt-Sims collected a second school record, this time in the 4×400. The relay squad — composed of junior Julian Body, sophomore Gabriel Navarro, Stenmark and Brandt-Sims — crushed their season best by three seconds en route to a school record to close the two-day meet. Finishing runner-up to USC (3:06.40), the Cardinal finished in 3:07.66 to take the top spot in the record books by nearly two seconds.
No team in school history had been able to break the 3:09 barrier until this weekend. Last year’s team — made up Body, Frank Kurtz, Stenmark and Navarro — held both the school record (3:09.38) and No. 3 time (3:09.95) until Saturday. Despite this record-crushing performance, the Cardinal came up about a second short of qualifying for NCAAs.
The women’s 4×400 meter team crossed in 3:40.78 to win their heat on Saturday afternoon, leaving the field in the dust. The Cardinal finished fourth overall as Arizona (3:39.09), Colorado (3:38.24) and USC (3:37.01) all finished with faster times in the fifth heat. Had the Cardinal been placed in that heat, perhaps they could have broken into the top three; regardless, the relay team — composed of Wilson, Best, junior Sarah Walker and Mongiovi — added five points to the Cardinal’s total.
Caitlin Collier added six points to the Cardinal’s team score after finished third in the 800 meters. The freshman won her heat with a blistering time of 2:06.64 for the bronze behind BYU’s Lauren Ellsworth (2:06.48) and Utah’s Sarah Newton (2:06:62).
In the shot put, fifth-year Lena Giger, a veteran force in the ring, finished runner-up (17.22 meters) behind Arizona State’s Samantha Noenning (17.40 meters). Giger, who threw a season-best 17.30 meters at the Mountain T’s Invitational at the start of the month, comfortably sits in seventh in the country, qualifying her for the NCAA Championships. Giger’s performance on Saturday morning marks her fourth top-five MPSF finish, repeating as runner-up.
Fifth-year Harrison Williams, who ranks first in the nation in the heptathlon, finished runner-up in the pole vault clearing 5.32 meters. Giger and Williams will represent the Cardinal at nationals come March 8.
Senior Kaitlyn Merritt and junior Erika Malaspina both cleared 4.24 meters to steal the show in the pole vault on Friday afternoon. Merritt cleared the height on her first attempt, giving her a slight advantage over Malaspina, who cleared on her third and final try. The duo finished first and second, contributing a combined 18 points to the team’s total.
Despite taking the MPSF title, Merritt had some unfinished business to take care of in Seattle. Falling short of a NCAA qualifying performance on Friday, the senior returned to the Dempsey indoor track on Saturday evening for the Seattle Pacific Final Qualifier, offering her one last chance to qualify. Merritt took three attempts at her personal best (4.34), which would have sent her to Birmingham but ultimately came up short, unable to clear the height.
The two veterans will transition to outdoor competition, as their personal bests this season placed them roughly three quarters of a meter outside the qualifying height for nationals. Merritt cleared 4.25 meters last weekend to finish 23rd in the nation, while Friday’s performance marks Malaspina’s highest jump of the season, good for 24th.
In the team standings, the Cardinal women finished second with 67.50 points to track and field powerhouse USC (120), while the men accumulated 42 points for seventh place. The two-day NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships will kickoff March 8 in Birmingham, AL.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.