Photo of Harrison Williams by Spencer Allen/SportsImageWire.com
AT SEATTLE’S DEMPSEY INDOOR track, where spectators, coaches, and athletes mix in one giant cauldron and cheers and screams echo off the building’s massive walls, Grant Fisher made a statement.
Last year, Fisher was racing against a 3,000-meter field of past NCAA champions and future contenders at the Husky Invitational, his first indoor meet since arriving at Stanford. The freshman moved up the field, pushed into the lead on the backstretch and outsprinted his foes to the line to win. In doing so, Fisher proved himself as a runner who can up his game against the elite.
The race didn’t count for Stanford — Fisher was redshirting. Now, Fisher is beginning his first collegiate indoor season and there is much anticipation about the possibilities. With Sean McGorty, the 2016 NCAA indoor 3,000 runner-up, bypassing the indoor season to prepare for the outdoor campaign, Fisher will fill the void as a potentially high NCAA scorer and as the Cardinal’s distance medley relay anchor.
Stanford treats the indoor season as a vehicle toward the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Stanford’s men placed eighth at NCAA Indoors last year – its highest finish at that meet in five years — and the Card women were 16th. Stanford is capable of matching or exceeding those finishes, with the DMR again appearing to be Stanford’s signature indoor event among both men and women.
“We’ve always said if we make June our goal, we can compete at a very high level along the way,” said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford’s Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field.
Stanford’s three-time All-America multi-events specialist Harrison Williams is at the forefront of some personnel decisions. Williams, a junior, will compete indoors this year, but redshirt outdoors. Next year, he will do the opposite, redshirting indoors. This will position him to be at his best as a fifth-year senior in 2018 when he will complete his collegiate career indoors and outdoors.
All-America pole vaulter Dylan Duvio is in a similar situation. He will bypass the 2017 indoor and outdoor seasons and be ready to roll during his fifth year, in 2018, a season Stanford has targeted to make a run at an NCAA championship. McGorty and Fisher will be vital figures in that effort as well.
Many of Stanford’s freshman distance runners will redshirt indoors this year. That includes Pac-12 Cross Country Freshman of the Year Thomas Ratcliffe and classmate Alek Parsons. It also includes the five-member women’s distance class of Christina Aragon, Hannah DeBalsi, Ella Donaghu, Fiona O’Keeffe, and Sarah Walker.
However, middle-distance runner Isaac Cortes may work himself into a DMR spot, and fellow freshman Julian Body, in the sprints and 60 hurdles, will compete as well.
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Stanford Indoor facts:
2017 USTFCCCA Rankings: Men, 10th; Women, 23rd.
2016 NCAA team finish: Men, 8th; Women, 16th.
Highest NCAA team finish: Men, 2nd (1998-2000); Women, 2nd (1992, 2006).
2016 MPSF team finish: Women, 2nd; Men, 6th.
MPSF team championships: Women (7), 1998, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012; Men (3), 1999, 2000, 2011.
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Jan. 27-28: Penn State National (NCAA qualifying opportunity for DMRs, women’s 4×400)
Feb. 10-11: Iowa State Classic, in Ames, Iowa (distance runners seek qualifying times)
Feb. 10-11: Don Kirby Elite Invitational, in Albuquerque, N.M. (sprinters, jumpers in spotlight)
Feb. 11: Millrose Games, in New York, N.Y. (Olivia Baker races in women’s 800)
Feb. 24-25: MPSF Championships, in Seattle
March 10-11: NCAA Championships, in College Station, Texas
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Returning All-Americans (indoors and outdoors) competing during the 2017 indoor season (with top national finish):
Tom Coyle, sr. (4th, 2016 NCAA indoor DMR)
Grant Fisher, so. (5th, 2016 NCAA cross country)
Jackson Shumway, 5th sr. (4th, 2016 NCAA indoor DMR)
Sam Wharton, sr. (39th, 2014 NCAA cross country)
Harrison Williams, jr. (4th, 2015 NCAA outdoor decathlon; 4th, 2016 NCAA indoor heptathlon)
Valarie Allman, sr. (3rd, 2016 NCAA outdoor discus)
Olivia Baker, jr. (2nd, 2016 NCAA outdoor 800)
Elise Cranny, jr. (2nd, 2015 NCAA indoor 3,000; 2nd, 2015 NCAA indoor DMR; 2nd, 2016 outdoor 1,500)
Michaela Crunkleton Wilson, jr. (15th, NCAA outdoor 4×400)
Vanessa Fraser, sr. (10th, 2016 NCAA indoor 3,000)
Gaby Gayles, jr. (15th, NCAA outdoor 4×400)
Rebecca Mehra, graduate (3rd, 2016 NCAA indoor DMR)
Malika Waschmann, sr. (3rd, 2016 NCAA indoor DMR)
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Distance medley relay:
Stanford’s men and women have combined for five NCAA DMR titles and 21 top-five finishes. Last year, Rebecca Mehra was the clutch performer, anchoring the Cardinal to third in her first season on the relay. Stanford returns three of its four from that team, with Malika Waschmann, Elise Cranny, and Mehra back, losing only quartermiler Kristyn Williams. Gaby Gayles, who has run a 53.59 in the open 400, should take the second-leg spot. Olivia Baker will likely stick to the 800 instead of the relay because the NCAA schedule makes such a double too difficult. Cranny anchored the 2015 Stanford DMR to an NCAA runner-up finish and could switch legs with Mehra, who would run the 1,200.
The Stanford men set a school record 9:27.27 last year and finished fourth at NCAA’s. With the graduation of half-miler Justin Brinkley and in the absence of Sean McGorty, Stanford will need to replace half its quartet. However, Grant Fisher provides a strong replacement for McGorty at the anchor. Jackson Shumway should remain on the 400 leg, but the 1,200 and 800 spots will come from a pool of 1,200 incumbent Tom Coyle, Tai Dinger (1:49.73, 800) and freshman Isaac Cortes (1:50.20, 800).
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The indoor season is perfectly suited for Grant Fisher. He was a sub-4-minute miler in high school who developed into an NCAA first-team All-America and OIympic Trials qualifier in the 5,000. The 3,000 should be his sweet spot. Miltenberg said Fisher will not run an indoor 5,000. Instead, the 3K and DMR will be his focus. His 7:50.06 time in his lone 3,000 last year was the No. 4 time in history for a U.S. junior (under 20) indoors or outdoors, behind only Jim Ryun, German Fernandez, and Galen Rupp.
Miltenberg said he’s enthused that the depth of Stanford’s distance crew is about to manifest itself in an NCAA qualifications. The level has risen enough across the board with Steven Fahy, Jack Keelan, Garrett Sweatt, Sam Wharton, and Alex Ostberg, to where the Cardinal could have strong representation across the distance events at NCAA’s. If it doesn’t happen indoors, it could well happen outdoors.
Elise Cranny was sidelined much of the cross country season with injury, but she has been in good health since returning for the NCAA Championships in November and is in full training mode. Cranny’s struggle in that meet was not health-related, but had to do with a lack of fitness. “She’s having a really good buildup since cross country,” Miltenberg said. Cranny will focus on the 3,000, an event in which she was the 2015 NCAA runner-up, and the DMR.
Olivia Baker, now a junior, emerged during the last indoor season as an elite half-miler. She won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation 800, was third at NCAA Indoors and second at NCAA Outdoors. An Olympic Trials semifinalist, Baker takes another step into top-level competition when she competes at the Millrose Games in New York on Feb. 11.
Rebecca Mehra, the Pac-12 1,500 runner-up, may concentrate on the DMR rather than make a run at the NCAA 3,000 or mile. Vanessa Fraser, the 2016 NCAA Indoor 3,000 10-placer, is on the verge of becoming NCAA scorer.
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Darian Brooks, a three-time Pac-12 triple jump champion, passes the mantle to teammate Jaak Uudmae, an Estonian who is No. 4 on Stanford’s all-time indoor performers’ list at 51-5 ¾. Uudmae, a junior in eligibility, seems poised for a big season.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Merritt leads a strong Stanford vault crew, though freshman Erika Malaspina may redshirt. Junior triple jumper Marisa Kwiatkowski could make a big impact at the MPSF meet and Rachel Reichenbach could do so in the high jump.
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Stanford’s women’s 4×400 has been building to this season for three years. Gaby Gayles, Olivia Baker, Michaela Crunkleton Wilson, and Kristyn Williams made two NCAA outdoor meets together, were second in the Pac-12, set a school indoor record, and ran the No. 2 outdoor time in Stanford history. Williams has graduated, but two sophomores – hurdler Hannah Labrie-Smith and quartermiler Missy Mongiovi — will vie for the open spot.
Stanford missed the NCAA indoor meet by one spot in the 4×400 in 2016 and is determined to make the field. Its best chance at qualifying may come at the Penn State National on Jan. 28. The Cardinal will use the meet as its prime opportunities to run fast in both DMR’s and the women’s 4×400.
Graduate student Jackson Shumway, the two-time Pac-12 400 hurdles runner-up, has just an indoor season left in his college career. Besides prepping for the DMR, he has a 47.36 personal best indoors in the 400.
Shumway anchored Stanford to its first 4×400/mile relay conference title since 1954, at the Pac-12 Championships last spring. That entire 4×400 team, with Harrison Williams, Frank Kurtz, Isaiah Brandt-Sims and Shumway, is intact for the indoor season. That quartet broke the Stanford record last spring at 3:05.59.
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Discus specialist Valarie Allman didn’t compete indoors during her first two collegiate seasons before taking up the 20-pound weight throw and hammer as a training tool as a junior. She became so good that she set a Stanford record in the weight throw (62-8 ½) and placed 11th at NCAA’s in the hammer. Of course, that was in addition to placing third at NCAA’s and sixth at the Olympic Trials in the discus.
“Valarie is a big-time competitor and doesn’t do anything without doing it at the highest level,” Miltenberg said. “If you ask her, her goal is to get to the indoor national meet and continue to do whatever she does to compete at the highest level.”
Tristen Newman, a junior, is a two-time NCAA West Prelims qualifier in the shot put, and will compete in the shot and 35-pound weight throw.
The indoor season begins Saturday, but the track and field season, and all its drama, will last for months before culminating at Hayward Field in June. Enjoy.