Although the meet does not attract loads of interstate competition, Saturday’s Stanford Cross Country Invitational will boast many of the top collegiate teams the state of California. The race known for fast times from the even-footing of the Stanford Golf Course will host four teams from the newly-formed Pac 12 conference as well as Big West conference foes and top Division II programs. Competitors will toe the line in Palo Alto for what is the first major competition of the season for many squads.
Host Stanford is the headliner. The Cardinal men are ranked third in the nation by the USTFCCCA coaches poll and return two of the NCAA’s top distance runners in seniors Chris Derrick and Jake Riley. Stanford’s women’s team is currently ranked sixth in the country. In addition to the season debut of All-American Kathy Kroeger, fans will be treated to the first appearance of Foot Locker national champion Aisling Cuffe in a Cardinal jersey.
Traditional rivals Cal and UCLA will also be joining the fray. Both teams are looking to score points against one another to strengthen their cases for earning at-large bids to nationals.
The Golden Bear men will be rebuilding in 2011 after losing key pieces from its team that qualified for nationals last year. The women led by All-American Deborah Maier are currently ranked fifth in the West region and could do well to score points at this early season affair.
In just his third season at the helm in Westwood, coach Forest Braden is beginning to turn the Bruin program around from many years of stagnation. The men’s team has an outside shot at qualifying for nationals if its pack can move up from the 50th to 60th place ranges at the West regionals to the 30th to 40th range.
New Pac 12 member Utah will face conference opponents for the first time. The Utes only sponsor women’s cross country. Junior Amanda Mergaert, a 2010 cross country nationals qualifier, is the top returner for Utah.
Saturday’s competition will also serve to establish the early season favorites for the Big West crown. Cal Poly, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara – the conference’s three stalwart distance programs – will each field what appear to be ‘A’ squads.
Another team to watch out for – especially in the men’s race – will be Chico State. The perennial Division II powerhouse is led by sophomore Isaac Chavez, third place finisher at last year’s DII nationals for 10k.
For live results from the meet on Saturday, click here.