Crunch time for Commodores begins with SEC Championships

Oct. 28, 2015

Event: SEC Championships
Day, Date: Friday, Oct. 30
Site: Dale Watts Cross Country Course (College Station, Texas)
Host: Texas A&M
Start Times: 10 a.m. Men’s 8k l 11 a.m. Women’s 6k
Live Results: HERE
Championship Central: HERE
Host Championship Central: HERE
Men’s Record Book: HERE
Women’s Record Book: HERE
TV coverage: Highlights of the meet will air on the SEC Network on Nov. 8 at 11:30 a.m. (CT)

The Vanderbilt cross country teams charge into the postseason this week, when the VU men and women travel to College Station, Texas, for the SEC Championships on Friday. Here’s a closer look at the meet.

l The skinny on the Commodores. Pursuing their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championships, the No. 26-ranked Vanderbilt women roll into the postseason on the heels of another highly-successful regular season. Freshman Caroline Pietrzyk has been Vanderbilt’s top finisher in all four of the Commodores’ regular-season meets, and has twice been named the SEC Freshman Runner of the Week. She helped lead Vanderbilt to a fourth-place finish at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational, where she posted a time of 16:56.30 — which ranks as the ninth-best mark in the SEC this season. On the men’s side, the Commodores have put together a series of impressive showings, highlighted by Jake Van Geffen’s 11th-place finish at the Notre Dame meet with a career-best time of 25:08.7. His efforts helped VU claim 13th overall at the meet.

l Looking at the field. The SEC meet is always jam-packed with talent on the women’s side, and this year is arguably one of the best fields, top to bottom, that the conference has ever produced. The incredibly-explosive Arkansas women — who are the two-time defending SEC champs and will carry a No. 4 national ranking into the meet — are considered the favorites to capture the title. The Razorbacks are one of three ranked teams in the women’s field, along with No. 13 Mississippi State and No. 26 Vanderbilt. Arkansas is also considered the favorites on the men’s side, with the No. 8 Razorbacks representing the lone ranked squad in the field. The Arkansas teams swept the SEC Championships last season. The Razorback men have won five consecutive SEC crowns and 22 in the last 24 years.

l Scheduled to run for the Vanderbilt women. Reagan Anderson, Sara Barron, Carmen Carlos, Maddie Criscione, Devon Grisbaum, Megan Huebner, Ginger Hutton, Courtney Kriegshauser, Caroline Pietrzyk, Sara Tsai, Vanessa Valentine and Lily Williams.

l Scheduled to run for the Vanderbilt men. Dan Arthur, Caleb Casolaro, Sam DeFabrizio, Waqqas Fazili, Nick French, Nikos Gkotsis, Sam Reilly, Evan Suzman, Jake Van Geffen and Jason Vincze

l What to watch. Arkansas’ Dominique Scott is the two-time defending SEC individual champion on the women’s side, and she is looking to become only the third women to win the conference meet three consecutive years. The others were Arkansas’ Amy Yoder (1997-99) and Auburn’s Angela Homan (2003-05).

l Course History and Information. The Dale Watts Cross Country Course opened in the fall of 2014. The wide starting area combined with ample racing room during first 1,000m of the course enable it to host championship-level events. The scenic course features tree-lined areas as well as sections that are heavily wooded. A berm along the wide-open finish area offers views to a majority of the venue during races.

l Looking back to last year. Fueled by outstanding performances from Katherine Delaney, Claire Benjamin and Sara Barron, the VU women captured second place at last year’s conference championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Delaney, Benjamin and Barron — who finished 9th, 13th and 14th, respectively — all earned All-SEC Second Team honors. Vanderbilt’s second-place finish was the second-best showing in the program’s history, ranking behind only the SEC Championship squad of 2011. On the men’s side, Vanderbilt finished 12th. John Ewing paced the Commodores and finished 55th overall with a time of 25.55.40, and Jake Van Geffen was 66th at 26:08.70. Vanderbilt finished ahead of LSU in the 13-team race. .


Head coach Steve Keith:

On the key’s to success for the Commodores.
“Really, for us, it’s all about replicating the type of race we ran at Notre Dame. We need to have our 1 to 5 inside 30 seconds. Obviously, Arkansas goes into the race as the hands-on favorites, and they deserve to be. On our end, we feel like Caroline has a chance to post a really good time … and so, really, it’s all about how condensed, or how tight, we can finish compared to Mississippi State and Alabama and some of the other really good teams.”

On the overall health of the team.
“We’ve got some nicks — or niggles — or whatever you want to call it. But we’ve managed to deal with those pretty well, and we feel like we are going into the meet pretty healthy. We’ve discussed what we want to do team-wise, and the girls understand that every point counts. Every point is valuable.”

Associate head coach Rhonda Riley:

On the team’s preparation and attitude heading into the SEC meet.
“We’ve had a solid two weeks of training since the meet in Wisconsin, and honestly, Thursday’s workout was probably the best one we’ve had all season in terms of collectively, as a group. Everyone was running with each other and for each other.”

On the level of competition.
“This is probably the deepest the SEC has ever been, and this will race will be a great indication of where our team is, especially in regard to the goals we want to reach in the weeks ahead.”

On the Vanderbilt freshmen.
“They’ve been solid for us all season, and they’re not intimidated at all. They love to compete, love to race. And this is going to be a great matchup and a great race environment for them to be in.”