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Sixteen years in the making, track and field teams place top 10 at NCAAs

Junior Ella Donaghu (above) competes in the women's 1,500 meters final on Saturday. Despite 97-degree heat, she finished in 4:13.62 for sixth place, earning Stanford three points. (SPENCER ALLEN/SportsImageWire.com)

On the final day of the NCAA Track and Field Championships, the Stanford women’s team finished 10th overall behind behind top-eight finishes from a pair of juniors. Ella Donaghu finished sixth in the 1,500 meters, while Fiona O’Keeffe placed seventh in the 5,000 meters to earn Stanford its only points of the day.

For the first time in 16 years, Stanford placed both teams in the top 10 at the outdoor NCAA Championships. While the No. 19 men’s team finished fourth behind four top-three performances, the No. 11 women’s team split a four-way tie for 10th with No. 17 Texas, No. 18 South Carolina and No. 20 Florida State.

Donaghu led the charge for the women on Saturday, finishing as the highest scorer of the day for the Cardinal. In the face of 97-degree heat at the Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas, she toed the line with sophomore Jess Lawson for the 1,500 meters. As the race opened, the duo tucked into the back half of the pack. When a lead group of four runners made a move to separate from the field, Donaghu and Lawson were too far behind to respond immediately. However, the duo powered through the final segments of the race. Donaghu finished in 4:13.62 for sixth place, just a step away from fifth, while Lawson crossed in 4:16.04 for 10th.

“When I crossed the finish line, I was a bit disappointed for not going with that group,” Donaghu said. “But I feel, from 500 [meters] out, I did a really great job of staying composed. I refocused and thought, ‘Go pick off people and have fun with it.’ Overall, I’m extremely proud how we both fought in this race.”

The pair of up-and-coming team leaders progressed to the 1,500 meter final in just their first appearance at the NCAA Championships. Donaghu was named to the All-America first team, while Lawson earned second team All-America honors.

“This year was definitely a building year,” Lawson said. “It was exciting to see those results all the way through the year. I attribute a lot of that to the way our team is growing and maturing. We’ve experienced a lot of growth, and a lot of people stepping up into leadership positions. I feel like my season is reflective of the growth we’ve been experiencing as a team. And I can only see that continuing as we go into next year.”

Donaghu scored three points with her sixth-place finish to bring the running total to 18 points for the Stanford women. O’Keeffe, the only other scorer for the Cardinal on Saturday, added an additional two points with a seventh-place performance in the 5,000 meters.

Midway through the 12.5-lap race, O’Keeffe fell, suffering abrasions to her right hip. She was in the lead pack at the time of the fall, but by the time she got up, the lead pack was well ahead. Over the remaining laps, she rallied back to bridge the gap between her and the leaders, ultimately finishing ahead of two runners in that lead pack. She placed seventh in 16:07.84.

“With Fiona taking a hard fall like that, to see her get up and battle back and get those two points for us, that speaks to them doing something for each other,” said head coach Chris Miltenberg.

A total of 10 athletes represented the Stanford women’s team at the NCAA Championships. They accumulated 20 points to split a four-way tie for 10th. (SPENCER ALLEN/SportsImageWire.com)

Earlier in the evening, junior Jaimi Salone made their outdoor NCAA debut in the women’s discuss. Despite fouling on their first two attempts, Salone released a throw of 153 feet, five inches to place 23rd.

In the high jump, fifth-year senior Rachel Reichenbach also made her first appearance at the outdoor national championships. Competing in a Stanford uniform for the final time, Reichenbach cleared the first three bars before clearing 5-10 on her third and final attempt. The senior gave three tries at her personal best, 5-11¼, but she was unable to lift herself over, ending her season.

“I didn’t quite have it today, but I put it all out there,” Reichenbach said. “It’s exciting to be here, and I’m excited to end on this note. I really couldn’t ask for much more. The road to get here has been incredible. Ending here today with my teammates watching, and all I’ve been through … it speaks so much for tenacity and how far mental strength can get you. That’s something I’ve learned and something my teammates have taught me too. That’s my takeaway today. This doesn’t necessarily end today. It might for track, but not for life, and not for my teammates.”

Fifth-year senior Rachel Reichenbach (above) competes in the women’s javelin at the NCAA Championships on Saturday. (SPENCER ALLEN/SportsImageWire.com)

With senior Mackenzie Little’s title-defending performance in the javelin and fifth-year senior Steven Fahy’s dramatic victory in the 3,000 meter steeplechase on Friday, the Cardinal conclude its trip to Austin with two individual NCAA titles, four first-team All-America honors, three second-team All-America honors and a pair of top-10 team finishes.

“It’s a great end to our season and to be back in the top 10 with this young group and the great synergy they have is a really exciting sign for the future ahead,” said Miltenberg.

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

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