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Track and field advances 14 to NCAA Championships

For the first time in her career, sophomore Jessica Lawson (above) advances to the NCAA national championships following her performance in Sacramento this weekend. Including Lawson, fourteen Stanford athletes will compete in the national championship next week. (JOHN P. LOZANO/isiphotos.com)

Track and field will be represented by 14 athletes at the NCAA Championships June 5-8. Thirteen of those individuals solidified their trip to Austin, Texas at the three-day NCAA West Regionals in Sacramento Thursday to Saturday.

The Cardinal effort was spearheaded by a strong showing from veterans Mackenzie Little, Grant Fisher and Steven Fahy. The graduating trio have been the spine of the program throughout the season and will return to the championships as top contenders for an NCAA crown. Stanford’s depth among the younger ranks was also on display, as sophomore Jess Lawson, junior Ella Donaghu and sophomore Virginia Miller all qualified for the championships for the first time in their respective careers.

“We’ve got a great group headed onto Austin, and the key there will be what it always is, continuing to focus on our effort, attitude and execution with a team centered mindset,” said head coach Chris Miltenberg. “Both teams are right in the hunt to be top 10 and I know if we focus on great team mindset, we’ll have great individual performances.”

Of the 48 competitors in each individual event, the top 12 finishers at each of the nation’s two regionals earned a trip to Austin. Having already earned an NCAA berth, fifth-year decathlete Harrison Williams did not compete at the western regionals. Williams, the reigning heptathlon champion and Stanford’s first multi-events male champion, seeks his first outdoor NCAA title and holds the second-best performance in the nation behind USC’s Ayden Owens.

The Cardinal women advanced 10 athletes to the championships, spearheaded by a strong contingent in the javelin. Two-sport athlete junior Jenna Gray won the javelin competition on Thursday with the best throw (180 feet, nine inches) across both NCAA regionals, punching her ticket to Austin. She was the runner-up finisher at the championships last year and returns as a top contender along with teammate Mackenzie Little, the defending NCAA champion and four-time Pac-12 champion.

Little, a senior from Australia, slightly slipped in her performance on Thursday, finishing fourth (178 feet, two inches) and ending her meet winning streak at eight. Nevertheless, the veteran will return to the championships to defend her title. Sophomore Virginia Miller advanced to the NCAA Championships for the first time in her career. After ending her season at regionals last year, Miller placed ninth this year with a 162-foot-4 throw to earn a trip to Austin.

Team captain and fifth-year senior Rachel Reichenbach also earned her first NCAA Championships berth with a lifetime best performance in the women’s high jump. She cleared 1.80 meters to finish third, becoming Stanford’s fifth-best all-time performer in the event.

Fifth-year senior Abbie McNulty earned her first trip to the outdoor championships with a seventh-place finish in the women’s 10,000 meters. The veteran missed qualifying last year by two spots in this event but solidified her spot on Thursday with a time of 33:41.60.

On Friday, junior Jaimi Salone unleashed a 185-foot-1 throw in the women’s shot put to secure their spot to the NCAA Championships. Shattering a lifetime best by 16 feet, Salone finished seventh in the field and became Stanford’s No. 4 all-time performer in the event. Friday also saw senior pole vaulter Kaitlyn Merritt and fifth-year steeplechaser Steven Fahy both qualify for their second NCAA Championships. Merritt set a personal best (14-feet 2-inches) to not only advance to Austin but also strengthen her spot as the second-best vaulter in school history behind reigning Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi.

Fahy solidified his second-consecutive trip the championships after winning the third heat of the men’s steeplechase in 8:39.60. The two-time Pac-12 champion has the 12th-best time in the nation this season and will be looking to improve on his third-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships.

Sophomore Jess Lawson and junior Ella Donaghu highlighted the Cardinal showing on the third and final day of competition on Saturday. The duo ran lifetime bests in the 1,500-meter to earn their first NCAA Championships berths. Lawson finished third in her heat with a five-second personal best (4:11.06), while Donaghu placed fifth in a different heat with a two-second personal best (4:11.70). Lawson and Donaghu now hold the No. 6 and No. 7 spots, respectively, on Stanford’s all-time performers’ list.

In the 5,000-meter, junior Fiona O’Keeffe ran a three-second lifetime best (15:31.45) to finish second in her heat and advance to nationals. She was the third-fastest performer between the two heats and has the looks to be a top contender in Austin. At last year’s championships, she placed fifth.

In the men’s 5,000-meter, senior Grant Fisher and junior Thomas Ratcliffe earned NCAA bids after placing first and fourth, respectively. Amongst some of the best in the nation, including Wisconsin’s reigning NCAA cross-country champion Morgan McDonald, Fisher, Ratcliffe and junior Alex Ostberg were all in the lead pack late in the race. With 500 meters to go, Fisher (13:45.64) broke away from the pack and ran away with the victory.

A veteran force in Stanford’s distance crew, Fisher returns to the championships for his final time in a Cardinal uniform and seeks to cap off his collegiate career with his second NCAA title in the event after claiming the crown in 2017. He will be joined by Ratcliffe, who finished fourth (13:47.24). Ostberg (13:51.66) finished one spot from a qualifying position.

“It was incredible to see our veterans like Mackenzie Little, Grant Fisher and Steven Fahy really set the standard, and then also our young risers like Jess Lawson and Ella Donaghu continue coming into their own and really believing they belong at the NCAA Championships,” Miltenberg said. “Both teams are right in the hunt to be top 10, and I know if we focus on great team mindset, we’ll have great individual performances.”

This article has been updated to correctly reflect Jaimi Salone’s pronouns. The Daily regrets this error.

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

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