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Ella Donaghu leads women’s cross country to highest NCAA finish since 2012

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The last time Ella Donaghu competed at the NCAA cross country championships, it was the fall of 2017, and she was making her second appearance at nationals. She finished 21st among sophomores and 69th overall. 

Now a senior academically, the Portland, Oregon, native led Stanford women’s cross country to its highest finish since 2012. Donaghu placed eighth, a career best, as the Cardinal women finished third at the NCAA championships held on Nov. 23 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Indiana. The men placed sixth overall, earning their sixth consecutive top-six finish.

In that 2017 championship race, then-sophomore Ednah Kurgat from New Mexico opened a five-second gap over the chase pack to win her first NCAA title. She finished well over a minute ahead of Donaghu. This year’s race, however, saw Donaghu finish one place ahead of Kurgat and, in the process, she earned her first cross country All-America honor. Her stellar performance comes just a week after she became the first Stanford woman in 12 years to win the NCAA West Regional title.  

Donaghu’s career day was accompanied by an equally impressive performance from junior Jess Lawson. After finishing 44th at the championships last year and 186th in 2017, she placed 11th overall this year to also earn her first cross country All-America honor. 

“There were 252 finishers in the race, so finishing eighth and 11th shows their talent and skill,” said first-year head coach J.J. Clark of Stanford’s top two finishers. “Massive improvement within a year’s time. Well done for both.”

A product of Addison, New York — a small village with a population of 1,763 people according to the 2010 census — Lawson has established her presence on the national stage over the last year. She, along with Donaghu, made her first appearance at the outdoor track and field championships in June, finishing in the top 10 in the 1,500 meters.

O’Keeffe, who sat out at regionals, was a meet-day decision. She suffered an injury after winning the Pac-12 title on Nov. 1. Despite her limitations, she ran steadily behind Donaghu and Lawson and finished 27th to become a four-time cross country All-American.

“They performed very well, especially considering Fiona was not 100 percent,” Clark said. “They all gave their very best.”

True freshman Abi Archer finished as the fifth-fastest freshman to traverse the six-kilometer course and placed 53rd overall. Junior Julia Heymach followed in 63rd to round out Stanford’s scorers.

The Cardinal women combined for 123 points to become the only program in the NCAA to finish in the top five in each of the last four years. Arkansas claimed the title with 96 points and BYU finished runner-up with 102.

Racing in heavy rain, the Stanford men’s team placed sixth for the sixth-consecutive year. Senior Alex Ostberg had the fastest time of the day for the Cardinal. He traversed the 10-kilometer course in 31:11.6 for 25th overall. Senior Alek Parsons and sixth-year Steven Fahy placed 34th and 35th, respectively, as Stanford scored 248 points. 

“The men had a solid year,” Clark said. “A top-10 performance is very respectable. We had higher goals but we fought hard. The men pulled off a sixth-place finish despite not having a perfect race.”

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

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Alejandro Salinas '21 is a Senior Staff Writer after serving as the Managing Editor of Sports for two volumes. Hailing from Pasadena, CA, he studies computer science and biology as a junior. In his free time he enjoys running, playing with dogs and watching sports. Contact him at asalinas 'at' stanford.edu.
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