Strong Recruiting Class
STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford track and field landed four national No. 1 recruits among a strong 16-member signing class that has combined for 50 state high school individual titles.
The Cardinal signed the nation's top men's javelin thrower, Liam Christensen, as well as a powerful distance group that includes the nation's top returning high school runners in the men's 800 meters (Brandon McGorty), men's 5,000 (DJ Principe) and women's two-mile (Nevada Mareno).
McGorty joins his older brother Sean, a seven-time All-America and two-time NCAA runner-up, on the Stanford distance crew. And Principe becomes the third consecutive New Balance Outdoor Nationals 5,000 winner to come to Stanford, following Alex Ostberg (2014) and Will Lauer (2015).
In all, seven runners among in the top 25 of the Flo50 national cross-country rankings have signed with the Cardinal. Stanford also signed three jumpers, two throwers, and a sprinter.
"We're really excited about our incoming classes on both the men's and women's sides," said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field. "We've covered all of the event areas extremely well with incredible depth again in the distances. Beyond being some of the very best athletes in the country, this group is, most importantly, an incredible fit with our team and our culture. They're going be a key part of the mission we are all on together."
Men's signees are runners Callum Bolger (San Luis Obispo), Connor Lane (Raleigh, N.C.), DJ Principe (Johnston, R.I.), Michael Vernau (Davis), and McGorty (Fairfax, Va.), as well as throwers Jake Koffman (Orono, Maine) and Christensen (Mount Pleasant, S.C.), jumper/multis Jack Herkert (Verona, Wis.), and sprinter Gabriel Navarro (El Paso, Texas).
Women's signees are runners Julia Heymach (Houston), Jess Lawson (Addison, N.Y.), Jordan Oakes (Seattle), Kaitlin Ryan (Tuckahoe, N.Y.), and Mareno (Raleigh, N.C.), and jumpers Aria Small (Mount Hermon, Mass.) and Valerie Przekop (Jamison, Pa.).
Callum Bolger was third at the California state championships in the 3,200 meters, running 8:53.24. Two weeks later, he ran a lifetime best 8:55.87 for two miles at the Brooks PR Invitational. Bolger is the defending CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet champ in the 3,200, and ran his best of 8:51.58 while finishing fourth at the Arcadia Invitational. Bolger ran nine sub-9-minute 3,200's in his junior season. In cross country, Bolger was the 2015 state Division III runner-up. He is No. 19 in the Flo50 national rankings.
Javelin thrower Liam Christensen captured the 2016 New Balance Outdoor Nationals with a throw of 232-1 (70.74 meters), winning by nearly 11 feet. The distance was the second-farthest in the history of the meet and made Christensen the No. 8 high school thrower of all-time and No. 36 among all Americans last year. The title was one of four national championships Christensen has won, including two in the Junior Olympics and the 2015 U.S. Youth Trials, and went on to finish eighth in the World Youth Games in Colombia. Christensen, who supplements his throwing with gymnastics training, was crowned the No. 1 javelin thrower on the 2016 Track & Field News high school All-America team. Javelin is not a high school event in South Carolina, so Christensen throws for the Mt. Pleasant Track Club and runs the 800 for North Charleston's Academic Magnet High. He wrote a thesis arguing that javelin should be a sanctioned high school event in his home state.
An aspiring NASA engineer, Jack Herkert could compete in both the high jump and decathlon at Stanford. Herkert was fifth in the high jump at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals with a lifetime best 6-10 ¼ (2.08m) – an improvement of six inches from his junior season -- and was the Wisconsin Division I champ at 6-8. Herkert also captured a Big 8 Conference title in the triple jump and was runner-up in the 110 high hurdles in 14.96. He owns a long jump best of 21-9 ½ and scored 5,639 in the decathlon while placing second at the USATF Region 8 meet. In addition to track and field, Herkert competes on the Verona High football and robotics teams, and is a Special Olympics volunteer.
Julia Heymach brings a national team background, having run for the U.S. at the 2015 World Youth Championships, placing eighth in the 1,500 in Cali, Colombia. Heymach is a four-time state champion at the highest public school enrollment division in Texas, capturing back-to-back UIL 6A titles in the 1,600, and winning 3,200 and cross country championships in 2015. Her sophomore year 4:40.97 was a Texas 6A and 6A meet 1,600 record. She went on to win the U.S. World Youth Trials to earn the trip to Colombia, running 4:21.78. In 2015, Heymach showed her speed by placing third at the Brooks PR meet with a 2:05.64 in the 800, the No. 7 prep time in the country that year. In 2016, she won the 1,600 at the Texas Meet of Champions (4:44.86) and ran a 4:45.14 mile at the Nike Elite Camp -- the No. 10 time in the country, making her the nation's fourth-fastest returnee at that distance. Julia's sister Claudia is a Stanford sophomore.
Jake Koffman holds the Maine high school discus record of 189-9 (57.83m), which he used to win his second consecutive state Class C championship, and was second in the shot put (best of 52-3 ½). Koffman is the reigning New England discus champ and was 15th at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. Koffman is a three-sport athlete at Orono, competing in basketball and football for the Red Riots. He won the state high school Heisman Award and is a candidate for the national honor.
Last week, Connor Lane ran to a 19-second victory in the North Carolina 4A cross country championships, improving upon his runner-up finish of 2015. It was his second state championship, following his 4A track title in the 3,200 last spring, when he ran a lifetime best 9:06.43. Lane has been on the podium at two national championship meets. He was sixth in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals two mile in 9:11.61, and fifth in the 5,000 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in 14:52.10. The time was the No. 5 indoor mark in the country last year.
Jess Lawson, a seven-time New York state champion, has been a standout since her freshman year for the school then called Corning East, when she a freshman meet record in the 5,000 of 17:08.45 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals. Also as a freshman, she won the federation state cross country title and advanced to the Foot Locker Nationals. In two trips to San Diego, Lawson placed 11th (2015) and 27th (2013), and was 26th at the 2015 Nike Cross Nationals. Lawson is a two-time Gatorade New York Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year and owns two top-three finishes at the New Balance National meets, in the 5,000 in 2016 (lifetime best 16:52.60) and the 2016 indoor two-mile (10:18.30). She is coached at Corning by her father, Ray Lawson, a member of Rochester's 1991 NCAA Division III cross country championship team. They live on a 200-acre farm where Jess owns and raises her own purebread Holstein heifers.
Nevada Mareno (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road HS): Nevada Mareno is the nation's top recruit in the two mile and No. 2 in her class in the 1,500/mile. She is an eight-time North Carolina state champion in track and cross country. In 2015, she was the surprise mile winner at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, running 4:43.23 to set a national sophomore record and break her personal best by 15 seconds. Mareno is the two-time defending state 4A cross country champion and is seeking to improve upon her third-place finish at Foot Locker Nationals last year. She is No. 2 on the Flo50 national rankings. In track, Mareno has shown great versatility. She ran a 2:07.60 split in anchoring the Leesville Road 4x800 to second at the 2014 New Balance Indoor Nationals. She captured a distance triple at the state 4A meet last year, winning the 800 (2:08.51) 1,600 (4:51.57) and 3,200 (10:17.70) on the same day. She achieved her two-mile best of 10:00.44 – the No. 2 time in the country last year -- to finish second at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals and set a state record. Her 4:18.48 in the 1,500 at the Boston Games was the nation's No. 5 time, and is the second-best among returnees. She owns three state records, including the indoor 1,000 (2:49.79) and 1,600 (4:53.97).
The nation's top returning high school 800 runner, Brandon McGorty joins his brother Sean, a seven-time All-America, on the Stanford team. Sean will be a fifth-year senior during Brandon's freshman year. Brandon has won nine Virginia championships and will be searching for a 10th this weekend, after capturing the 6A North Region title last week. A six-time track All-America, McGorty unleashed his best 800 of 1:48.58 at the Dogwood Track Classic in May. The time that was No. 3 in the country last year, but first among returnees. In March, McGorty anchored Chantilly to the national high school record in the indoor sprint medley relay, running a 1:49.53 split. He concluded his season in June by placing fifth at the U.S. junior nationals.
Gabriel Navarro captured the Texas public school 6A Area 1/2 championship in the 400, and won 6A District 1 championships in both the 200 and 400, the latter in a lifetime best 47.67. Navarro had his best day at the Great Southwest Classic, winning the 100 in 10.60 and was second in the 200 in 21.39. Both were lifetime bests, but aided by wind barely over-the-allowable 2.0 meters per second. Including relays, Navarro has won three areas titles and four district crowns on the track, and another two district titles with Franklin's soccer team. He also was a receiver and kicker on the football team.
Jordan Oakes captured her second consecutive Washington 3A cross country title last week, leading Holy Names to its second team title in three years. Oakes, the 2015 Gatorade Washington Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, has won seven state individual titles overall. She first proved herself at long distance as a sophomore by winning the state 3A 3,200 and 1,600 titles on the track. As a junior, she dropped in distance and pulled off the 800-1,600-4x400 triple, and then completed her season by placing fourth in the 3000 (9:39.51) at the U.S. junior nationals. This year, she hopes to return to the Foot Locker cross country nationals, after placing 20th in 2015. Oakes has bests of 10:19.52 for 3,200 and 2:10.31 in the 800. She follows her mother, the former Mary LaVern '82, to The Farm. Also, Jordan has organized community fun runs that raised $4,200 to benefit orphaned children in Iraq.
DJ Principe, the reigning New Balance Outdoor Nationals 5,000 champ, is among the nation's marquee distance recruits. Principe became the third consecutive future Stanford runner to win the event, with a 14:37.09. It was the No. 2 time in the nation last year and is tops among the nation's returning high schoolers. Last week, Principe became the first in Rhode Island cross country history to win three consecutive individual overall state titles – winning by nearly a minute, in 14:56.09 over 5K – to add to the three he already captured in the state Class A championships. He also is seeking to repeat as the New England cross country champ, and contend in a top national race. He was 17th in the Nike Cross Nationals last year. In track, Principe carries bests of 4:07.66 in the mile, 8:51.43 in the 3,200, and holds five state records. He has won eight state individual and seven team titles, including Class A and overall, in indoor and outdoor track and cross country. The Rams are a running powerhouse, with Principe being part of teams that won the 4x,1,600 at the 2015 New Balance Indoor Nationals and the 2014 Nike Cross Northeast championships.
Valerie Przekop is an emerging star in the high jump, improving nine inches as a junior to a best of 5-9. Przekop won the Pennsylvania Class AAA outdoor championship with her personal best and later placed fourth at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. Until her junior year, Przekop focused on basketball, traveling around the country with her AAU team during the summer and was recruited by some small college programs. But after struggling with symptoms of ADHD since childhood, she finally was diagnosed with the disorder in the fall of her junior year and chose to drop basketball and focus on track and went on to become a two-time All-American after never having previously advanced to even a district meet. She hopes that her story will inspire others who may be struggling with a disability or having to make a tough choice, as she did between schools.
Kaitlin Ryan is the third-fastest returning 800 runner in the country, based on 2016 results. Ryan ran 2:06.65 in a June meet at Princeton to make her the year's ninth-fastest high school half-miler in the country. Ryan was second at the New York publc high school state championships. Kaitlin's father, David Ryan, ran at William & Mary and her brother, Sean, ran distance at SUNY Oneonta. Kaitlin placed sixth at the 2015 U.S. junior nationals in the 800 and earned All-America honors. Ryan has one state title – in the 4x400 in 2015 – and has the versatility to add to her legacy this year.
Aria Small won three New England Prep School Track Association Division I championships last spring, sweeping the three jumping events – long, triple and high -- in one day. Small set NEPSTA Division I records in the long jump (19-0) and triple jump (40-10 ¼) and was named Most Outstanding Female Performer at the meet. Small was born in Atlanta, but lived in Barbados before attending boarding school at Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.) School. An outstanding athlete, Small was a member of the Barbados national gymnastics team and played volleyball for seven years.
Michael Vernau is the second-fastest returnee from the 2015 Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships, placing 10th overall. Vernau made huge strides between his sophomore and junior years at Davis Senior High, jumping from 124th in the California Division I cross country final as a sophomore to a top-10 national finish. ran a fast 14:47.6 over 5K in finishing second in the seeded race at the Stanford Invitational cross country meet Oct. 1. He is the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion in both cross country and in track's 3,200. He was fourth in that event at the state track championships in a best of 8:54.58 and ran a 4:13.63 mile at the Nike Elite Camp. He was high school teammates with Stanford runner Fiona O'Keeffe and is coached at Davis by Bill Gregg, the father of former Stanford All-America runner Brendan Gregg.