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Season Recap: Indoor track and field

Fifth-year Harrison Williams claimed Stanford’s first heptathlon NCAA title

Fifth-year senior Harrison Williams (above) became Stanford's first male athlete to win an NCAA multi-events title when he won the heptathlon event at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. (KIRBY LEE/Image of Sport)

The 2019 indoor track and field season saw one of Stanford’s strongest performances in recent years, with seven new school records and numerous top-three NCAA finishes. Fifth-year senior Harrison Williams claimed his first NCAA heptathlon title, becoming the first male athlete to win an NCAA multi-event title in program history.

On the men’s side, the season culminated in a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the team’s highest showing since 2007. The women placed 12th, recording their sixth consecutive top-20 finish.

“NCAA’s was another big step in the growth for our entire program,” said head coach Chris Miltenberg. “Winning an NCAA trophy on the men’s side for the first time in over 12 years is a testament to our seniors, who bought into a vision years ago and kept working and believing.”

Competing in his final indoor track and field season, Williams led the NCAA for most of the season. The well-decorated 2018 Pac-12 decathlon champion was no stranger to the big dance. In his indoor championships debut as a sophomore, Williams placed fourth, only to follow up that performance with a sixth-place showing his junior season. With a personal-best 5,970 points, Williams’ sixth-place performance became the highest sixth-place score in NCAA heptathlon history.

After redshirting his senior season, the fifth-year returned as one of the top contenders for heptathlon crown. In his 2019 season debut, he scored a then nation-leading 5,961 points, just nine points shy of his school record.

“I really wanted to break 6,000,” Williams said. “I fell a little short, but it was still a great meet.”

Williams would lead the NCAA for most of the season, before heading into NCAAs as the second seed. In his sixth showing at a national championship across the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, the veteran was nothing short of stellar.

Despite sitting in fourth after the first day of the two-day event, Williams leapt into first place behind strong showings in the final three events. He concluded the competition with a 67-point lead over the field and a total of 6,042 points, shattering his own school record and earning Stanford its first NCAA indoor title since the men’s DMR won in 2014.

The season also saw senior Grant Fisher set an American collegiate record and claim two NCAA runner-up finishes. At the prestigious Millrose Games in New York, Fisher ran a lifetime best 7:42.62 for 3,000 meters en route to setting an American collegiate record. He broke the previous American collegiate record by two seconds (Galen Rupp, 7:44.69) and Stanford record by four seconds (Chris Derrick, 7:46.81). He also holds the fourth-fastest performance in collegiate history.

Fisher anchored the men’s DMR team to a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title and an NCAA berth. Despite being seeded 12th in a field of 12 teams, the DMR team — composed of Fisher, senior Alex Ostberg, graduate student Isaiah Brandt-Sims and junior Isaac Cortes — were not deterred.

Fisher grabbed the baton with nine runners ahead of him and nine seconds behind the leader. Over the ensuing seven laps, he moved himself into first, ahead of Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse. In a final sprint that came down to the last few meters, Nuguse outkicked the Stanford senior by 0.15 seconds to give the Fighting Irish their first NCAA indoor title since winning the same event in 2012. Fisher clocked 3:54.24 for the 1600-meter split.

In his second performance of the weekend, Fisher toed the line in the men’s 3,000 meters against a familiar foe in McDonald. The duo ran conservatively for most of the race, before breaking away over the final laps around the Birmingham Complex indoor track. As expected, the race came down to a sprint down the home straight away. The day favored McDonald (7:52.85) as he narrowly outkicked Fisher (7:53.15) for the NCAA title.

Junior Fiona O’Keeffe recorded Stanford’s fastest 5,000-meter indoor time (15:37.61) when she placed third at the NCAA Championships. Seeded 13th in the race, O’Keeffe relied on her consistency and experience to move from ninth to third over the final 1,000 meters. The five-time All-American closed in 34.58 over the final 200 meters to finish ahead of several previous NCAA individual champions. McNulty (16:29.56) earned her first All-American honors after finishing 15th in the same race.

At the MPSF Championships, O’Keeffe repeated as the women’s 3,000-meter champion after running the second-fastest time (8:58.58) in school history. PattiSue Plumer holds the school record time (8:53.1), which she set in 1983.

Competing in her final season of eligibility, fifth-year senior Lena Giger finished second in the shot put at the NCAA Championships. In her final throw in a Cardinal uniform, Giger unleashed a school record-breaking throw (17.89 meters) that sent her from second to first in the field. However, Arizona State’s Samantha Noenning responded with her own personal best, a 17.91-meter toss that would return her to the lead and send Giger back to second. Giger, the shot put bronze medalist at the 2018 outdoor national championships, capped off her Stanford career with her highest NCAA finish.

The season also saw graduate student Isaiah Brandt-Sims set a new school record in the 60-meter dash (6.71). Sophomores Gabriel Navarro and Louis Stenmark, junior Julian Body and Brandt-Sims combined forces to set a school record (3:07.66) in the 4×400-meter relay. Stenmark also set a school record in the 600 meters (1:17.59).

While the indoor season is in the books, the outdoor track and field season is underway with the three-day NCAA West Preliminary Round scheduled to begin on Thursday at Sacramento State.

Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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