BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the final tune up before the SEC Championships and against the deepest field of the season, Vanderbilt cross country finished eighth in the women’s race and ninth in the men’s meet at the Blazer Classic on Friday morning at Veterans Park.
The women finished with 221 points and beat out a pair of SEC opponents in Florida and Mississippi State while the men’s 203 points were just one shy of Kentucky — the Wildcats were 44 points better than the Commodores last month — and only seven away from matching sixth-place Florida.
Throughout most of the 6-kilometer women’s race, Grace Jensen ran alongside some of the top runners in the nation en route to a team-best 14th-place finish (20:39.13). The junior harrier has been the first Commodore to cross the finish line in all three races this season and for the third straight meet she was followed by freshman Lainey Phelps, who finished 56th overall at 21:43.77.
Seniors Gillian Mortimer (21:49.42) and Anna Grace Morgan (21:56.48) were right behind Phelps in 59th and 62nd place, respectively, as Vanderbilt’s second through fifth runners finished within 21 seconds of each other. Caroline Eck (22:04.36) rounded out that scoring group at 68th overall.
“Grace (Jensen) had a really nice run and it was good to see that,” Vanderbilt head coach Steve Keith said. “Now we have to give her some support. That is the challenge for the rest of our group and they know that. It’s a short season and we have to learn quickly. This was our first big, fast race and we can take a lot away from this as we head into SEC’s.”
“Nick (Laning) and (Matthew) Estopinal had solid races,” Keith said, “and we’ll need five good races to really scare some teams. The growth on the men’s side has been fun to watch. The fact that we are frustrated at being a few points away is kept in perspective from where we were a few years ago. They have a lot to be proud of and more progress to make, and no better place to do it than two weeks from now (at SEC Championships).”
In addition, Joslin Blair and Mathew Ragsdale made their collegiate debuts for the Commodores. Blair was 93rd overall with a time of 22:47.58 for the women while Ragsdale finished in 28:08.04 to place 90th in the men’s race.
Vanderbilt will head to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the SEC Championships on Oct. 30.
Last year at the conference meet, the women were sixth overall and just six points out of fourth, while the men were led by Laning, who became the second male Commodore to earn All-SEC honors en route to a 10th-place finish and the program’s lowest point total since 1980.