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Track and Field competes for outdoor NCAA title

Fifth-year senior Abbie McNulty, sophomore Jess Lawson and junior Fiona O'Keeffe (left to right) will represent the Cardinal women at the outdoor NCAA Track and Field Championships beginning on Wednesday. McNulty and Lawson will be making their first appearances at the outdoor championships, while O'Keeffe returns after placing fifth in the 5,000 meters as a freshman. (JOHN P. LOZANO/isiphotos.com)

Fourteen athletes will have the honor of representing Stanford track and field at the outdoor NCAA Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas from Wednesday to Saturday. Several graduating veterans, such as Harrison Williams, Mackenzie Little and Grant Fisher, will be looking to add to their collection of NCAA titles, while sophomore Jess Lawson and fifth-year senior Abbie McNulty are among some making their outdoor NCAA debut.

Ranked No. 11 in the nation, the Cardinal women will be represented by 10 athletes. Little, a senior from Australia, returns to the championships as perhaps one of the most likely candidates for a national crown. The reigning javelin champion holds the best throw of the year (195 feet, one inch) and is the only athlete to have broken 190 feet, a feat she has accomplished multiple times this season. She holds the school record in the event (198 feet) and recently completed a career sweep in the Pac-12 conference, improving Stanford’s consecutive winning streak to eight women’s javelin titles.

Little will be joined by two-sport All-American junior Jenna Gray, the runner-up finisher from last year’s championships. Gray, also a member of the NCAA-winning volleyball team, has a season best of 184 feet that ranks her fourth in the country. Sophomore Virginia Miller will join the two veterans in Austin in her NCAA debut. Her lifetime best (162 feet, eight inches) ranks her seventh on Stanford’s all-time performers list.

In the 1,500 meters, sophomore Jess Lawson and junior Ella Donaghu will also be making their debut at the outdoor championships. The duo ran lifetime bests at regionals to advance to the championships. Lawson finished third (4:11.06) to qualify with a five-second personal best, while Donaghu improved by two seconds (4:11.70) to advance.

The women will also be represented by distance elites Fiona O’Keeffe and McNulty. O’Keeffe, a junior, will compete in the 5,000 meters for the second year in a row. She placed second in her heat at regionals with a three-second lifetime best (15:31.45). McNulty earned her first trip to the outdoor championships after qualifying in the 10,000 meters. She ran a time of 33:41.60 to make her outdoor NCAA debut.

Junior Jaimi Salone and senior Kaitlyn Merritt will represent the Cardinal in the women’s discuss and pole vault, respectively. Salone chases their first NCAA title after shattering their lifetime best by 16 feet at the regionals. Their 185-foot one-inch throw ranks No. 23 in the nation and No. 4 on Stanford’s all-time list. Merritt also set a personal best (14-feet, two-inches) in the pole vault to advance. She holds the No. 2 best performance by a Stanford athlete as she looks to cap off a senior-year campaign with a competitive showing at the championships.

Fifth-year senior Rachel Reichenbach earned her first NCAA Championships appearance after setting a lifetime best in the high jump at regionals. Having cleared 1.80 meters for third place, Reichenbach became Stanford’s fifth-best performer in the event.

On the men’s side, the No. 19 Cardinal men will be represented by four athletes. Williams, Fisher and fifth-year senior Steven Fahy will all be competing for the final time in a Cardinal uniform.

Williams leads Stanford’s mult-events cohort and recently became the program’s first male multi-events NCAA Champion when he won the heptathlon title in April. He’s currently ranked second in the nation in the event after scoring 8,112 points at the Bryan Clay Invitational earlier this season. Williams has one of the strongest chances of claiming an NCAA title for the Cardinal. Competition for the decathlon begins Wednesday and will continue through Thursday.

Fisher and Fahy have been mighty forces within the distance ranks all season. The pair represent a distance program that placed fifth at nationals in November and recently claimed runner-up finishes in the 3,000 and DMR at the indoor championships. Having either anchored or run in both of those second-place performances, Fisher returns to the NCAA Championships seeking his first title since winning the 5,000 meters in 2017. He will be joined by junior Thomas Ratcliffe, the fourth-place finisher at regionals.

Fahy wraps up the competitors for the men’s team. The fifth-year recently claimed his second consecutive Pac-12 steeplechase title and returns to the championships after placing third last year. He currently ranks No. 16 in the nation in the event after running a season-best 8:39.60 at regionals. Despite his ranking, Fahy shouldn’t be mistaken as a trivial competitor. The decorated veteran has a personal best of 8:34.52, which would place him sixth in the nation, but with the competitive atmosphere that defines the NCAA Championships, he’s likely to finish even higher.

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

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