Honor Roll No. 4: Kathy Kroeger

The Bootleg's 2012-2013 Honor Roll continues, this time to the world of distance running. Stanford's Kathy Kroeger has long been performing at an elite level, and this past year her skills earned her a dramatic Pac-12 championship.

In an April article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2012-‘13 school-year.

The criteria are as follows:

Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well.

We are now releasing the 10 winners of this award, one by one. Our previously announced members of the Honor Roll are baseball's Mark Appel, field hockey's Becky Dru and swimmer David Nolan. Our fourth announced member of The Bootleg's 2012-2013 Honor Roll is distance runner Kathy Kroeger.

A Decorated Career
There has been plenty not to like about Pac-12 expansion. The conference added its second-choice teams. A true round-robin schedule in football is no longer. More schools are now multiple states away from each other.

But for many of Stanford's non-revenue sports, used to being at or near the top of the conference, the increased competition in the form of Colorado and Utah has been a boon. (Of course, going head-to-head with Texas et al would have been better yet, but perhaps that day will come.) So it has been for Stanford's distance runners.

Thanks in no small part to the training opportunities the altitude affords, Colorado is now the class of the pack. The Buffaloes have five cross-country national titles, all since 2000, with recent greats including Dathan Ritzenhein and Kara Goucher. But don't tell that to Stanford's Kathy Kroeger, who lined up for her senior Pac-12 meet this fall.

A nine-time All-American at Stanford (and three-time Honor Roll finalist), Kroeger is no stranger to the spotlight. As a mere high school sophomore, she won the FootLocker national cross-country championship, the premiere distance event for American high school distance runners. (Think of all the football all-star games rolled into one, with the additional hurdle of needing to qualify at regional meets first.)

Success at Stanford followed. On the track, Kroeger has strung together three straight top-eight finishes at the 5K at the NCAA Championships, and advanced to the Olympic trials finals for the 1,500. In cross country, she graduates Stanford a two-time All-American after consecutive top-25 finishes at the NCAA Championships. In the classroom, Kroeger is set to graduate with a B.S. in math and computational science, one of Stanford's most demanding majors.

But Kroeger's highlight moment came at this year's Pac-12 cross country championships, an event in which she took second each of the last two years. Through much of this year's race, Kroeger looked hard-pressed to repeat as runner-up, let alone challenge for the title, as a lead pack of runners broke away from her, leading much of the race by over 10 seconds. But Oregon's Jordan Hasay and Kroeger chased down and caught the lead pack with about 800 meters to go in the 6K race. To her credit, Arizona's Elvin Kibet of that lead pack would not go quietly, and it was very much anyone's race heading into the race's final moments.

The final equation was likely complex: part aerobic training, part tactics, and a little part luck. There was undoubtedly an intangible element too. Call it heart, or grit, or the pure insanity of squeezing every last ounce of effort out of a body screaming at her in utter rebellion. Kroeger truly must have summoned her every last reserve as she hammered down that final stretch.

She would have gone down as a great Stanford runner regardless of how that final minute shook out, but now Kroeger belongs amongst the all-timers. After chasing down the lead pack, Kroeger found enough within her to pull away from Hasay, Kibet and the rest of the field. With a 20:06 6K and a four-second margin of victory, the Pac-12 Championship was her's. Kroeger is Stanford's seventh woman to win a Pac-X cross-country championship, and the first since Arianna Lambie in 2007 to claim the title.

Of course, the six women before Kroeger didn't have to deal with Colorado, or a conference that, heading into this year's national championships, had four of the nation's top six teams. So after winning the most impressive conference championship in school history, Kathy Kroeger takes her place as the fourth member of The Bootleg's 2012-'13 Honor Roll. We congratulate her and encourage you to stay tuned as we reveal the rest of this year's ten-member corps.

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