Eight Stanford track athletes will represent the Cardinal this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, AL. Hosted at the Birmingham CrossPlex, the two-day national championship welcomes only the top 16 individuals and 12 fastest relay teams in each event.
The Cardinal men will be represented in three events — the 3,000 meters, heptathlon and distance medley relay (DMR) — while the women will vie for titles in the shot put, 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters.
The No. 14 Stanford men’s team and No. 35 women’s team return to the national stage after last year’s championship saw the men finish 21st, while the women secured their fifth consecutive top-20 team finish.
Head coach Chris Miltenberg said, “Our men were eighth here three years ago and that was our highest NCAA indoor finish in a very long time, and I think we can surpass that, so it’s really exciting!”
This season, Stanford has strong chances of winning the national crown in at least two events: the heptathlon and men’s 3,000 meters. Harrison Williams, a veteran force on the team, seeks his first NCAA title in the heptathlon with day one of competition scheduled for Friday. The fifth-year set the school record in the indoor event at the 2017 NCAA Championships. His score of 5,970 points marks the highest sixth place finish in NCAA Championship history.
At the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational four weeks ago, Williams boasted a then nation leading performance in the event, accumulating 5,961 points, just nine points short of his school record and personal best. He now sits in second heading into this weekend’s competition. Williams is no stranger to the national spotlight; the veteran has appeared at five national championships across indoor and outdoor seasons. In his sophomore indoor season, he placed fourth recording his highest finish in indoors.
Now as a much more experienced multi-event athlete, Williams will have one final chance as a Cardinal to win an indoor NCAA crown. The outdoor season this spring will conclude his collegiate career and perhaps begin his professional aspirations. Williams enters Friday’s competition as the No. 2 seed in the two-day, seven-event competition behind Georgia’s Erm Johannes, who scored 5,996 points at the SEC Indoor Championships on Feb. 22.
Along with Williams, standout senior Grant Fisher will be searching for his first indoor NCAA title this weekend. The 2017 outdoor 5,000 meter champion, will face a steep 3,000 meter field that includes Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald and Campbell’s Amon Kembio. The trio last met at the Millrose Games in New York on Feb. 9, when Fisher edged McDonald and Kembio for the 3,000 meter victory. The three collegians topped a field stacked with professional athletes. Fisher’s time (7:42.62) broke the American collegiate record set by Galen Rupp (7:44.69) in 2009 as a senior at Oregon. Returning to the distance for the first time since that personal best performance, Fisher, a nine-time All-American, will have put his No. 1 seed on the line as he seeks his first indoor crown.
On Friday night, Fisher will join forces with senior Alex Ostberg, graduate student Isaiah Brandt-Sims and junior Isaac Cortes in the team’s 10th consecutive NCAA showing in the DMR. Ostberg, who broke the four-minute mile barrier earlier this season, will lead off the team with the 1200 meter leg. The strength and speed of Brandt-Sims, who holds school records in the indoor and outdoor 4×400 meter relay and DMR, will carry the Cardinal through two laps on the 200-meter banked track. Cortes, who has participated on every variation of the DMR team this season, will be tasked with the 800-meter leg before handing off to the team’s veteran anchor, Grant Fisher.
The DMR squad enters Friday’s competition as the lowest seeded team in the field. However, the Cardinal have never put together this batch of four into one relay. The variety of strength, experience and grit that qualified this team to the NCAAs will have to be on display Friday if the Cardinal hope to find a podium finish. The gun goes off at 7:02 p.m. PT.
On the women’s team, junior Fiona O’Keeffe and fifth-year Abbie McNulty will represent the Cardinal in the 5,000 meters on Friday evening. Seeded 13th and 16th, respectively, O’Keeffe and McNulty will compete in the indoor event for the first time at the NCAA level. For McNulty, this weekend marks her first indoor or outdoor NCAA track and field championship meet, while O’Keeffe placed fifth at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships in the same event.
Both women ran exceptional times to qualify for nationals. O’Keeffe (15:35.77) set a Stanford indoor record for any size track at the Husky Classic on Feb. 8. If she runs that same time or better on Friday, O’Keeffe would become Stanford’s fastest NCAA Indoor performer in the event, surpassing Arianna Lambie’s 2007 time (15:37.97). McNulty (15:42.13) shattered her personal best by 16 seconds in the same race on Feb. 8, placing her third on Stanford’s all-time indoor performers’ list. The duo are scheduled to race at 6:07 p.m. on Friday.
O’Keeffe returns to the track less than 24 hours later for the 3,000 meters. On Feb. 23, she won her second consecutive MPSF 3,000 meter title in a performance that saw her run the fastest time (8:58.58) by a Cardinal in 36 years. She now holds the No. 2 time in program history, only behind PattiSue Plumer’s time of 8:53.1 set in 1983.
Fifth-year senior Lena Giger rounds out the Stanford NCAA squad. Seeded ninth in the shot put, Giger concludes her Stanford athletic career on Friday afternoon as her final season of collegiate eligibility comes to a close. A veteran of the event, Giger placed sixth at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships and third at the outdoor nationals, highlighting Stanford’s highest finish in the event since 2004. The three-time All-American set the school shot put record with a 17.78 toss last indoor season to win the Husky Invitational, breaking a record held by Olympian Jillian Camarena.
“I’m really looking forward to our teams just continuing to compete really well as we have been all season long,” Miltenberg said. “As we always say, nothing changes when we get here.”
Festivities in Birmingham, AL kick off Friday at 10 a.m. PT.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.