Commodores march into SEC Championships

Oct. 29, 2014

Event: SEC Championships
Day, Date: Friday, Oct. 31
Host: University of Alabama
Site: Harry Pritchett Running Course (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Start Times: 9 a.m. Women’s 6K Championship l 10 a.m. Men’s 8K Championship
Live results: HERE
TV: A post-produced broadcast of the Championships will air on the SEC Network at 8 p.m. CT on Sunday, Nov. 9.

As his team rolls into the postseason, Vanderbilt head coach Steve Keith sounded a little bit like Yogi Berra as he discussed the Commodores’ chances of delivering a strong performance at Friday’s SEC Championship. “If we do well at what we do well, then I believe we will do well,” he said with a smile. “And you can quote me on that.” In other words, Keith believes that if the No. 14-ranked Vanderbilt women can continue to execute their pack-running plan — which has resulted in strong showings throughout the regular season — then the team has a chance to do something special on Halloween in Tuscaloosa. Assistant coach Rhonda Riley agrees that the Commodores have all the pieces in place. “It’s refreshing to go into a championship race knowing that we have 10 girls who are healthy, hungry and ready to toe the line with each other and for each other,” she said. The Vanderbilt women, who won the SEC title in 2011, will race on Friday at 9 a.m., and the Commodore men will be in action at 10 a.m. Here’s a look at a few of the storylines heading into Friday’s event:

l Chasing the Hogs. As usual, the Arkansas men and women are considered by many to be the favorites to capture the titles on Friday. They swept the SEC Champions last year in Gainesville, and they each carry national rankings into the weekend: The Razorback women are ranked No. 5 and the Arkansas men are No. 23. The Razorback men have won four consecutive SEC titles and 21 of the last 23. The Arkansas women have captured a league-leading 14 SEC championships all-time. (Sidenote: The two Arkansas teams and the Vanderbilt women are the only teams that will carry national rankings into this weekend’s SEC race).

l Momentum on their side. The Vanderbilt women delivered their best performance of the season in their most recent event, finishing in a tie for ninth place against a talent-rich field at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 17. The strong showing enabled Vanderbilt to soar up 13 spots — from No. 27 to 14 — in the USTFCCCA poll the following week. The race in Wisconsin featured 22 of the top-30 teams in the country, and the Commodores finished ahead of 10 teams that were ranked in front of them going into the race. Vanderbilt’s top five runners posted a spread of only 35 seconds, which was the second-best margin of any team in the race. Carmen Carlos led the way for Vanderbilt, posting a career-best time of 20:40 to finish 42nd overall. The Vanderbilt men also enter the postseason with some momentum after a solid showing in their most recent race — the FSU Invitational on Oct. 11. The Commodores earned a fifth-place finish in the team standings, and Vanderbilt’s Nick French took 10th place with a time of 25:52.64.

l Back for more. Arkansas’ Dominique Scott is looking to win her second consecutive SEC women’s individual cross country championship. She would be the first repeat women’s SEC champion since Auburn’s Angela Homan won three in a row from 2003-2005. Scott is one of three All-Americans in this weekend’s race, along with Arkansas men’s teammates Stanley Kebenei and Ty McCormack.

l Been here before. This marks the fifth time the University of Alabama has played host to the SEC Cross Country Championships, also doing so in 1972, 1979, 1988 and 2000.

l Scheduled to run for the Vanderbilt women. Emman Abrahamson, Reagan Anderson, Sara Barron, Claire Benjamin, Carmen Carlos, Rebecca Chandler, Katherine Delaney, Amira Joseph, Vanessa Valentine, Lily Williams

l Scheduled to run for the Vanderbilt men. Andrew Bachman, Matthew Cleveland, Sam DeFabrizio, John Ewing, Andrew Fix, Nick French, Nikolaos Gkotsis, Dan Henderson, Sam Reilly, Jake Van Geffen


Head coach Steve Keith:

On his expectations for the Commodores. We’ve got to run our absolute best race. And that’s what we want to try to do — and then just see where that ends up. We want to try to group within 20 seconds and see how many we can pack up in that Top-20. … The challenge is — can we run our best race? Keeping a tight race is the key; we saw that at Wisconsin. And we’ll have an even better chance to do it against the smaller field at the SEC race.

On the Commodores’ mindset entering the postseason. We’ve got some good momentum going in. The depth and the quality of our team has afforded us the opportunity to have five, six, seven kids running really well at any given meet. … At Wisconsin, we could only run seven kids in the Invite race, whereas this weekend we can run 10. That’s exciting because it seems like every race we’ve had someone who hit a big one.

Assistant coach Rhonda Riley:

On the Vanderbilt women being among the favorites. There’s always a target on your back when you have had a quality season. But I still think the girls see themselves as the underdogs, so to speak. And that’s a good place to be in. The girls don’t worry about the other teams or the rankings or any of that. They are just focused on what they need to do to have the best possible race, and just to control what they can control.

On what the team gained from the strong showing in Wisconsin. It was a big confidence booster. They’ve reached the point where they’re trusting the training, trusting the process. They have really bought in this year, and they can see that they are fit and that it’s translating into the race.

On trying to avoid feeling pressure. At Wisconsin, the girls were so excited to be there, but they didn’t put any extra pressure on themselves. They were having a good time and joking around — the day before the race and the day of the race, too. And I believe if they can take that same mind frame into this race, great things are going to happen.