Updated: Jan 13
Let's just address this while we can.
Stanford is going to take a big hit in their scoring with the graduation of Elise Cranny and it will not be an easy task to replace her scoring significance.
The top runner on last year's 4th place team is now part of the Bowerman Track Club, leaving a sizable hole to fill this fall for the Cardinal. While it sounds like a tall order, that may not be a problem for Stanford, a team who brings back their other four scorers and one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
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Fiona O’Keefe will be looked at to lead the team this fall after finishing behind Cranny for most of last fall. O’Keefe was a star in high school and has become one of the NCAA's best distance running talents over the past three years, earning five All-American honors along the way. O’Keefe has been an All-American in each of the three years that she has competed in cross country and will be expected to earn her fourth this fall. She enters the season ranked #7 overall (in our XC Top 50) after finishing 17th at the national meet in 2018.
During her outdoor season, O’Keefe managed a 7th place finish in the 5000 meters at the Outdoor National Championships despite falling. She also finished 3rd in the same event at the indoor national meet.
While the loss of Cranny stings, having O’Keefe up front will help ease that pain for Stanford. Her consistency is undervalued and she should be in contention for the national title this fall. However, the veteran leadership she brings to the table for a relatively young Stanford team is arguably the most important aspect of her return.
Jessica Lawson (TSR #41) is one of Stanford’s top rising talents who could be on the verge of having a breakout season this fall. As a freshman, Lawson was 52nd at the West Regional Championships and 186th at the national meet.
But 2018 was a completely different story for Lawson. Last year, she made huge improvements by placing 24th at the West Regional Championships and 44th at NCAA's, only four spots shy of All-American honors. She also qualified for the outdoor national meet last spring, placing 10th in the 1500 meter final.
Lawson is someone who Stanford may look to in order to help them fill the scoring gap that was left by Cranny. Naturally, O’Keefe will takeover as the team's #1 runner, meaning someone will have to fill her previous role as Stanford's #2. Lawson has a strong chance to be an All-American this fall and if she can crack the top 30 at NCAA's, it would be huge for Stanford.
It’s far too early to overly speculate on where she will land, but based on what we saw from her this past year, she looks to be headed in the right direction.
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Stanford will also bring back three other members of their 2018 NCAA squad in Julia Heymach (JR), Jordan Oakes (JR), and Rebecca Story (SO). Heymach and Oakes were consistent back end scorers for the team last fall and with another year of experience under their belts, they should be able to tighten Stanford’s top five time spread.
A few other names who could be rounding out the Cardinal varsity lineup are Abi Archer, Kristin Fahy, and Grace Connolly. The three incoming freshmen were phenomenal cross country runners in high school and have a great shot at contributing for the team this fall.
Archer was 10th at NXN in 2018 and won three state championships in cross country during her high school career. She also won six state titles on the track and owns personal bests of 10:21 for 3200 meters and 4:53 for 1600 meters.
Predicting how freshmen will perform in the NCAA can be a big challenge, but there are a lot of reasons to like what Archer brings to the table. She’s proven her ability to compete for titles on a consistent basis while also demonstrating impressive cross country prowess. Stanford’s 1-2-3 seem to be relatively set, but Archer could easily find herself competing for a scoring role as the season progresses.
Then we have Kristin Fahy is the younger sister of Stanford runner (and NCAA steeplechase champion) Steven Fahy. Kristin is coming off of a senior season in which she won the California Division Two state title in cross country, as well as winning the Footlocker West Regional title and the California State 3200 meter title on the track. She comes in with personal bests of 4:48 for 1600 and 10:11 for 3200 meters.
Fahy comes from a family of accomplished collegiate runners and it would be surprising if she didn’t continue the trend. Steven was the 2019 NCAA steeplechase champion and her older brother Darren finished runner-up in the event while competing for Georgetown in 2017.
Like Archer, Kristin should be competing for one of the final scoring spots on a deep Stanford squad this fall. She brings an excellent reputation to the cross country course and could become an integral part of the team before the season is over.
And of course we then have Grace Connolly who is arguably just as good. Her 8th place finish at the 2018 Footlocker Championships, paired with her jaw-dropped PR of 10:18 for two miles makes her an elite-caliber recruit who could immediately help out with Stanford's scoring. She is arguably the most accomplished recruit of this group.
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One name that isn’t new, but certainly feels that way is Christina Aragon. The Stanford senior competed only once for the team last year, winning the USF Invitational in the team’s cross country opener. Her absence for the year is a little concerning as it’s possible that she was dealing with some type of injury. That said, she did race twice in the 800 during the spring (unattached) which points to her being healthy once again.
Aragon could be huge for Stanford this season if she can continue to improve on the results of her freshman season. Back in 2016, Aragon finished 38th overall at the NCAA meet to earn her first All-American honors. Her sophomore season was not as successful, but her strong start to 2018 hinted that she might be ready for a big year in cross country.
It’s hard to tell where Aragon may be at heading into 2019. Having been absent since essentially last August, there’s no telling if she comes in super fit or if she is still easing back into training. Either way, if Aragon is able to ready herself by November, she could be a major contributor for Stanford this fall.
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Assuming Aragon is able to get back to her prior fitness, Stanford has at least three potential All-Americans in O’Keefe, Aragon, and Lawson. Last year, the team finished 5th with only two individual All-Americans. Does that make them a serious contender for the podium in 2019?
Short answer, yes...but there are a few things to keep in mind.
One is that they have a substantial amount of unknowns going into this fall. Whether it's their young and unproven group of freshmen, Christina Aragon's health, or even who their actual coach will be to start the season, are all things that have us scratching our heads and asking questions.
O’Keefe should be a lock up-front and Lawson seems like a reliable-enough option to finish inside the top 40 at NCAA's. Anything more would be an added bonus.
Essentially, Stanford comes in with a team that could be top three at NCAA's if everything plays out in their favor. They will start the season ranked #7 until those promising star talents start to prove themselves. However, this should certainly be an interesting group to follow throughout the fall of 2019...