The historic Stanford-Cal rivalry continued Saturday afternoon with the 125th Big Meet at Cobb Track and Angell Field. The Cardinal women secured their fifth consecutive Big Meet victory, while the men came up marginally short in a meet that saw multiple records broken.
Cal’s head coach Tony Sandoval was honored at the start of the meet. After 37 years at the helm of Cal’s cross country and track and field programs, Sandoval will be retiring at the conclusion of the season.
The meet opened in emphatic fashion, with Stanford breaking both the men’s and women’s javelin Big Meet records. The Cardinal women won the javelin for the 17th consecutive year behind the arm of senior Mackenzie Little, who unleashed the second-best throw of her career (59.47 meters). The reigning NCAA champion broke her Big Meet record (58.63 meters) set last year.
Junior two-sport athlete Jenna Gray followed in second with a 55.75 meter throw to give the Cardinal a 1-2 finish in the opening event of the meet.
Sophomore Liam Christensen broke a 10-year meet record by over 20 feet in the men’s javelin after launching the stick 74.73 meters. The previous record was held by Cal’s Ryan Young (68.52 meters), who set the record in 2009.
“He was launching it today, and that got me hyped,” said freshman sprinter Louis Stenmark. “I’m excited to see what he can do now that he has the confidence knowing he can pop off like that at any moment.”
In the high jump, Rachel Reichenbach lept to new heights. The fifth-year senior set a career best after clearing five feet and 9.25 inches, which was six inches higher than her previous best.
The women’s steeple opened the distance events for the meet. This race was a sophomore dual as the only competitors were Stanford’s Jordan Oakes and Cal’s Annie Boos. Boos controlled the race from the start. She gained an early lead that would only grow with every lap. The Cal sophomore crossed in 10:14.91, just short of her school record (10:14.83) set earlier this season. In her first steeple of the year, Oakes finished in 10:26.27.
The men’s race featured fifth-year senior Steven Fahy, the reigning third-place NCAA finisher in the event. Fahy ran comfortably behind Cal’s Kai Benedict for the first 2,000 meters before opening a dominant lead with three laps left, leaving the rest of the field in the dust.
Competing in his final season for the Cardinal, the veteran of the event and 2018 Pac-12 steeplechase champion accelerated over the final laps to claim the event. His time of 8:45.49 set a new Big Meet record. After missing the fall cross-country season due to injury, Fahy’s record-breaking performance shows promise for a strong outdoor season.
Stanford’s distance dominance continued with the 1,500 meters. It was all Stanford from start to finish. In the women’s race, senior Catherine Pagano paced the first two laps before stepping off the track, handing the lead to junior Fiona O’Keeffe. Sophomore Jess Lawson and fifth-year senior Abbie McNulty sat comfortably behind O’Keeffe with Cal’s Mina Anglero rounding out the lead group.
With 200 meters left, Lawson made a decisive move to the lead, gapping the field as she powered down the final straightaway to claim the lead. Lawson (4:19.19) lead a 1-2-3 finish for the Cardinal as O’Keeffe (4:20.91) followed in second and McNulty (4:21.24) in third.
At the Stanford Invitational last weekend, Lawson set a four-second personal best in the event, with a time of 4:16.85. Saturday’s performance marks her second consecutive victory in the event.
In his outdoor season debut, senior Grant Fisher won the men’s 1,500 meters. The field was tightly bunched heading into the final lap, but it was Fisher and junior Thomas Ratcliffe who broke away from the field with 300 meters left.
The duo stormed to the finish with Fisher (3:46.36) claiming the victory ahead of second-place Ratcliffe (3:48.15). The decorated senior won the 2018 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships and recently finished runner-up in the 3,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
“I was really happy with how I competed and got some points for the crew,” Fisher said.
An hour later, Fisher and Ratcliffe returned to the track for their second bouts with Cal, this time in 800 meters. After a 56-second first lap, the field remained tightly bunched. Junior Hari Sathyamurthy, an 800-meter specialist who had the fastest-seeded time (1:49.93), challenged for the lead down the back straightaway, but Cal’s freshman Moises Medrano responded and led the pack through the final curve.
As the race headed down the home straight away, it seemed as though it would be a 1-2 finish for the Golden Bears, as Moises and Ben Micallef led the field. But in the final 30 meters, Fisher came out of nowhere, sprinting down the inside lane to claim the win for the Cardinal in 1:51.86, a lifetime best for him. Cal finished in second and third, adding four points to their team total.
Saturday’s race marked Fisher’s first 800-meter race since high school. “We just decided to hop into the eight, two or three days ago,” Fisher said. “I think it’s good for my development as a distance runner just being able to kick at the end of races and have that speed and turnover. If anything this prepares me well for championship races in the future because they always come down to the kick so I wanted to hone in on that skill today.”
The women’s 800-meter race was one of the closest of the day. Cal’s Rebecca Croft and Stanford’s Carolyn Wilson dueled during the entirety of the two-lap race. With 150 meters left, Wilson moved ahead of Croft and powered down the straightaway, opening a lead on the senior. Wilson (2:06.63) claimed the lead in a time that came just short of her personal best (2:06.56). Croft finished second (2:07.88).
The race for third saw the smallest margin of difference between two athletes. Cal’s Jordyn Colter (2:09.912) out-leaned sophomore Julia Heymach (2:09.914) for the bronze.
The 3,000 meters closed out Stanford’s distance showing. Heading into this event, Cal’s women’s team led Stanford 74-72. A win in this event would clinch the meet for the Cardinal women.
The first half of the race saw a pedestrian pace as the women favored tactics over speed. At the halfway point, a trio of Stanford runners — O’Keeffe, McNulty and Lawson — began to break away from the field. The leaders opened a decisive lead over the field as they finished in tandem, side-by-side, clinching the meet win for the Cardinal.
The nine points gained from the 3,000 meters gave Stanford a seven-point advantage heading into the final event of the day, the 4×400 meter relay. Since a relay win constitutes five points, Stanford effectively clinched the meet win on the women’s side with one event remaining.
On the men’s side, the team’s scores were up in the air heading into the 3,000 meters as several field events were still in process. The men’s race saw a much more honest race from the start. Ratcliffe paced the first 1,600 meters before stepping off the track, passing the lead off to a group of five runners — four Cardinal athletes and one Golden Bear.
In the penultimate lap, Fahy pressed the lead, dropping a 63-second lap and opening a small gap on the leaders. With 250 meters left, sophomore Michael Vernau moved into second, leaving junior Alek Parsons and Cal’s Paul Zeiss battling for third.
As Fahy and Vernau ran away with first and second, respectively, Parsons and Zeiss dualed down home straight. With eyes bulging, Zeiss made a last-second push to claim third (8:15.41) to break up the potential 1-2-3 finish for the Cardinal, while Parsons finished fourth (8:15.86). Fahy closed in 60.2 seconds for his second win of the day.
“Cal always gives us a run for our money in the distance events, and they’re a very complete team,” Fisher said.
While the Cardinal women secured the meet title, the 3,000 meter performance gave Stanford’s men’s team valuable points as the meet transitioned into the final event.
With all events scored, except the 4×400 meter relay, Stanford trailed Cal 78-80. Four laps around the oval would crown the men’s 125th Big Meet champion. Both teams lined the perimeter of the home straight away for this event, an annual tradition of the Big Meet.
The first leg of the race saw Stanford and Cal neck-and-neck. Both teams handed off the baton nearly simultaneously. Junior Julian Body built a slight advantage in the second leg, but Cal’s Jaser Foster had something to say about that, fighting back near the end of the leg to hand off at the same time as the Cardinal.
The third leg was unlike the rest, with Cal taking a decisive lead 50 meters into the sprint. Sathyamurthy battled back over the last 200 meters but ultimately tasked sophomore Louis Stenmark to close the gap on Cal’s premier anchor Paramveer Chohan.
Stenmark closed on Chohan, nearly regaining the lead with 100 meters left, but it was Chohan’s unmatchable kick that decided the fate for the Cardinal. Cal’s men’s team claimed the event, and the 125th Big Meet to go along with it.
“We put it all on the line,” Stenmark said. “We wouldn’t have run it any other way. I was stocked with my split, and it was overall a really fun meet.”
The relay marked the second competition of the day for the Australian freshman. He set a season best in the 400 meters, crossing in 46.93.
“It was a huge breakthrough for me,” Stenmark said. “When I saw the clock. I said, ‘This is awesome. This is the reason I do track.’ It was super special, and my parents from Australia came over to visit and luckily they got to see that. My mom was super emotional.”
In the women’s 4×400-meter relay race, Stanford opened with a 20-meter edge on Cal. The lead only grew over the second leg as the Cardinal women fought to defend their Big Meet title.
However, Cal reclaimed the lead in the third leg off of a valiant effort from sophomore Deshae Wise. Freshman Allie Jones held the baton for the Cardinal and hung on tight, fighting back down the home straight to give the lead back to Stanford.
Carolyn Wilson, who won the 800 meters an hour earlier, anchored the relay for the Cardinal. She grabbed the stick slightly ahead of Cal’s Rebecca Croft. Wilson immediately opened a gap on Croft, putting the race out of reach for the Cal senior. Stanford clocked in 3:46.53 to Cal’s 3:48.84, awarding the Cardinal its fifth consecutive Big Meet title.
The Cardinal return to the home oval next Friday and Saturday for the Cardinal Classic.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.