Nov. 22, 2009

Watch Men's Race Live On Monday (12:08 p.m. ET)
Women's D-I Championship Preview

By John Schwarb
Special to NCAA.com


Stanford is changing the mindset in men’s cross country. Just one more week remains to make the transition complete.
    
In 2007 and 2008, Oregon won the Division I Championships, adding to its decades-long legacy of distance-running success. Except this year the Ducks haven’t been the top team in their own conference, much less the West region or nationwide.
    
Gotta go south from Eugene, Ore., now to find the team to beat. Specifically, to Palo Alto, Calif., where the Cardinal have returned to prominence.
    
The 2002 and 2003 NCAA champs have enjoyed a perfect 2009 season and will arrive in Terre Haute, Ind., on Monday for the NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country Championships with all the momentum. Stanford is the top-ranked team on paper—the unanimous No. 1 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings—and by its most recent efforts.
    
Last weekend at the West Regional (at the University of Oregon), Stanford swept the top three individual spots and scored 27 team points in a winning effort, far better than Portland’s 84 and Oregon’s 109.
    
“Things have gone to plan, as good as we could have possibly expected,” coach Jason Dunn said. “I feel we are definitely ready for Monday and have been focused on that throughout most of our season.”
    
Stanford took third at last year’s Championships, with freshmen taking two of the team’s top three spots. Newcomer Chris Derrick was sixth, covering the Terre Haute 10k in 29 minutes, 30 seconds.
    
As a sophomore, Derrick has been the best in the west. His unbeaten season includes a regional title by a hair over junior teammate Elliott Heath (both clocked 30:38), and at the Pac-10 meet won in record time. He completed the 8k course in 22:35, breaking the record of 2008 NCAA Champion and U.S. Olympian Galen Rupp of Oregon by almost 20 seconds.
    
“I don’t know really what to make of a course-record time in cross country or a conference-record time based on the subjectivity of courses, but it was a very impressive run regardless,” Dunn said. “Obviously, he’s extremely talented from a physical standpoint, and there’s just a belief that comes from within him that he’s going to be one of the top guys in the country. That’s what allowed him to start to fit into that role last year as a freshman, as an 18-year-old. He just turned 19 a month ago, so he’s still young for his class.”
    
Elliott Heath, younger brother of All-American Garrett Heath (second for the Cardinal and 27th overall as a senior at last year’s Championships), has settled into the No. 2 role. Jake Riley, also strong last year as a freshman, was held out of the regional due to injury but is expected to return Monday and run as the team’s No. 3 or 4 man.
    
Beyond the unanimous No. 1 team is an intriguing contender from the Midwest region—Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are No. 2 coming into the title race for a second consecutive year, but hoping to do far better than last year’s eighth-place Championships effort.
    
There may not be an orange OSU jersey at the very front, but a pack of them might not be far behind. At the Midwest Regional the team won by taking spots nine through 13. Its next two runners were 14th and 16th, with all seven (four seniors and three sophomores) finishing within four seconds.
“They haven’t really shown their cards, you could say, much throughout the season, so there’s a little bit of an unknown with them,” Dunn said. “The one thing that is not unknown is the talent they have and the potential in that group. That’s the team I’d consider the one that will be the biggest obstacle in terms for us fulfilling our goals.”
    
And what about those Oregon Ducks? They’ll again be at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, but without the momentum of years past. Their third-place effort at the regional sent them plummeting in the rankings, down five spots to No. 8.
    
“We as a team have to get the right mindset before (Monday). We put in work physically, but we need to bring the enthusiasm back,” sophomore Luke Puskedra said. “The (regional) definitely didn’t go as well as we wanted it to be, but I know we are a strong team.”
    
But the road to the title now goes through rival Stanford.