Commodores ready for challenge at NCAA South Regional

Nov. 12, 2014

Event: NCAA South Regional Championships
Day, Date: Friday, Nov. 14
Host: Florida State
Site: Apalachee Regional Park
Start Times (Central): 8 a.m. Women’s 6k l 9 a.m. Men’s 10k
Meet Central/Live results: HERE

The No. 16-ranked Vanderbilt women’s team will be looking to continue its postseason prosperity this weekend when the Commodores travel to Tallahassee, Fla., for the NCAA South Regional. Coming off an impressive second-place at the SEC Championships two weeks ago, the Vanderbilt runners will carry high expectations with them when they take the course at Apalachee Regional Park (Tallahassee, Fla.) for the 6K race on Friday morning at 8 a.m. (CT). The Vanderbilt men will take the course at 9 a.m. (CT) for the men’s 10K race. The VU men are coming off a 12th-place finish at the SEC meet. Here’s a look at a few storylines surrounding Friday’s race:

l Building for the big one. The goal of any team, in any sport, is to peek during the postseason — and the Vanderbilt women seem primed to do just that. The Commodores have been gathering momentum for more than a month, beginning with a solid showing at the Roy Griak Invitational, where they finished eighth, followed by a sensational performance at the adidas Invitational in Wisconsin, where they tied for ninth and finished ahead of 10 teams that were ranked in ahead of them in the USTFCCCA poll. Vanderbilt then capped the surge with the second-place finish at the SEC Championships, which represented the second-highest finish in the program’s history behind only the 2011 SEC championship team.

l Looking to extend the streak. The Vanderbilt women, who took second place at last year’s Regional, enter this weekend’s race with hopes of locking down a spot at the upcoming NCAA Championships (Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.). The Commodores have advanced to the NCAA Championships in each of the past three seasons dating back to 2011, when the team qualified for the event for the first time in the program’s history.

l Running strong. Katherine Delaney, Clarie Benjamin and Sara Barron led the way for the Commodores at the SEC Championships. They each finished among the Top-15 and earned All-SEC Second Team honors. Delaney took ninth with a time of 20:10.10, Benjamin was 13th at 20:33.80 and Barron was 14th at 20:34.60. All three runners set new PRs. Emma Abrahamson earned a spot on the All-Freshman team, finishing 37th at 21:06.00.

l Course background. The Apalachee Regional Park features a series of trails and loops that allow for competition to be contested over a wide range of race lengths. The predominant running surfaces are grass and crushed shell. The width of the course ranges from approximately 150 meters at the starting line and is significantly wider than 25 meters through the first 800 meters, where it narrows to 15 meters at the 1000m mark. The course meets and actually exceeds the 10-meter width requirement at all points through the finish chute following the recent completion of a $250,000 widening and renovation project. The course was developed by the Leon County Recreation Department in collaboration with Florida State University athletics and the local Gulf Winds Track Club. It was designed with cross country meets in mind.

l Scheduled to run for VU women: Sara Barron, Claire Benjamin, Carmen Carlos, Rebecca Chandler, Katherine Delaney, Amira Joseph and Vanessa Valentine. Alternate: Emma Abrahamson.

l Scheduled to run for VU men: Andrew Bachman, Matthew Cleveland, John Ewing, Andrew Fix, Nick French, Sam Reilly and Jake Van Geffen.

l Participating women’s teams: Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Alabama State, Auburn, Belmont, Central Florida, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, Memphis, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Mississippi, North Florida, Samford, South Alabama, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee, Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt.

l Participating men’s teams: Alabama, Auburn, Belmont, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, Memphis, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Mississippi, North Florida, Samford, South Alabama, South Florida, Tennessee, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt.


Head coach Steve Keith:

On his team’s preparation for the Regional meet. In one respect, most of the hard work is done, training-wise, but there is more work mentally done now than at any point in the season. So it’s just a different approach. Early in the season, you are just trying to get used to racing, and you’re working hard physically. Now, it’s the mental test — can I maximize my fitness?

On the key to having success on Friday. The challenge is, can we get five great races? Actually, we want seven great races. But that’s what it boils down to: For us (as coaches), our challenge is to look at each individual and try to get the best race out of them.

On his team’s consistent progress throughout the season. If you try to script out a season, that’s kind of how you want it to play out. (The Roy Griak in) Minnesota was an eye-opener for us; it was a very competitive meet. And then three weeks later, we had the Wisconsin (adidas Invitational) race, and that’s where the momentum really shifted for us. That really gave us a springboard — and positive momentum — that we wanted as we headed into the Championships meets.

On the difficulty of picking just seven runners from the roster. It’s a tribute to our team and the quality individuals that we have. They’ve all worked really hard and they all deserve this opportunity. But unfortunately, we could only pick 10 for SEC (two weeks ago) and we can only pick seven for the NCAA.

Assistant coach Rhonda Riley:

On the team’s mindset. AnswerI don’t think the girls feel any pressure going into this meet. It’s more along the lines of just being excited and looking forward to putting a complete race together and then seeing how well they perform.

On her belief that the Commodores can have their best race of the season. Individually, I think some of the girls know they have even more to give, and that as a team, our spread can be even closer. So, why not try to do it at Regionals? It’s a great course to do it, and I think the girls are chomping at the bit to get out there.

On the team’s depth. Coach Keith and I sometimes joke about it, because we’ve tried to predict our top five (for certain races) and we were so wrong. But that really says something about depth. This is the deepest team we’ve ever had. It’s a good problem to have, but at the same time, we’re leaving four or five girls at home that definitely could perform at Regionals or even Nationals.

On building a tradition of success at Vanderbilt. We will graduate some great leadership this year and some key members of the team, but I look at the development of our upperclassmen, and I really feel like this program is going to be strong for a long time.