NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Director of cross country and track and field Althea Thomas announced the signing of 14 men’s and women’s distance student-athletes.
Transfer student Ashlee Gallegos and freshmen Briana Bennis, Colette Kinsella, Gianna Leone, Catherine Sommerfeld, Clara Steer and Elsa Steer will be joining the women’s cross country and track and field programs this fall. The men’s cross country team signed transfer students Max Blader, Max Hughes and Andrew Pahnke and freshmen Brady Bliven, Jack DesRoches, Patrick Ford and Jackson Scruggs.
Three-time Nike Track Nationals All-American Gallegos will join the Commodores after spending one year at USC. While competing for the Trojans, she placed eighth in the 1,500 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays and finished second among teammates and 92nd overall at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships. While prepping at J Serra Catholic, Gallegos was a four-time Arcadia Invitational champion and was a member of the 2021 California state cross country championship-winning team. In 2022, she won the 1,600 meters at the Orange County Championships, recording a prep-best time of 4:55.41.
Bennis, of Elmhurst, Illinois, earned 11 all-conference and six all-state cross country and track and field selections while prepping at Elmhurst (York) High School. In 2023, she was third at the Illinois State Cross Country Championships and placed third in the 3,200 meters at the state track and field championships. During her senior cross country season, she won the Aurora Section and LaGrange (Lyons) Region titles. Bennis led her high school cross country team to the state championship in 2022 and second place in 2023. Her prep-best times include 4:58.47 in the 1,600 meters, 10:24.08 in the 3,200 meters and 16:56.4 in the 5K (cross country).
LaGrange Park, Illinois, native Kinsella is a sectional and two-time regional champion in cross country. She medaled four times at the Illinois state cross country meet and was named the 2023 Nazareth Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. On the track, she earned fifth place in the 3,200 meters at the IHSA state championships with a prep-best time of 10:51.62 and medaled at sectionals in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Leone prepped at Waccamaw High School, where she was a six-time track state champion—four times as an individual. She won three state titles in the 1,600 meters from 2021 to 2023 and was first in the 3,200 meters at the state championships in 2021. Three times she was named all-state in cross country and was the SCHSL state cross country champion in 2023. Her hometown is Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Leone owns prep-best times of 5:03.24 in the 1,600 meters, 11:02.60 in the 3,200 meters and 18:11.2 in the 5K (cross country).
Sommerfeld, a native of LaGrange, Illinois, was selected as ISHA all-state, section and region and WSC all-conference, while prepping at LaGrange (Lyons) High School. She is the indoor and outdoor school record holder in the 3,200 meters, the indoor record holder in the 1,600 meters and a four-year varsity letterwinner. Her prep bests include 4:57 in the 1,600 meters, 10:35 in the 3,200 meters and 16:58 in the three miles (cross country).
Pacific Ridge, California, native C. Steer prepped at Pacific Ridge High School, where she recorded prep-best times of 2:14 in the 800 meters, 5:03 in the 1,600 meters and 18:00.1 in the three miles (cross country). She was the 2023 Coastal League champion in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters and was the runner-up in the 1,600 meters at the CIFSDS Finals in 2022 and 2023. At the 2022 CIF State Cross Country Championships, she finished 11th overall.
E. Steer of Pacific Ridge, California, won the Coastal Conference Championships and finished 14th at the CIF State Cross Country Championships. She placed first at the PRS 3K Time Trial and recorded a prep-best time of 11:15.0 in the 3,000 meters (cross country). E. Steer ranked fourth in California and 55th in the country in the 3,000 meters in 2023. In 2022, she finished fourth in the 800 meters and fifth in the 1,600 meters at the CIFSDS Finals and was the runner-up at the Coastal Conference Finals.
Charleston Southern transfer Blader is a native of New Richmond, Wisconsin. While prepping at New Richmond High School, he finished sixth at the Wisconsin State Cross Country Championships and won the sectional meet in Chippewa Falls. As a freshman at Charleston Southern, he was second in the 1,500 meters at the Charleston Southern Last Chance Qualifier and fourth in the same event at the Gamecock Invitational, where he turned in a personal-best time of 3:58.34. As a sophomore, he was 41st overall at the 8K Vertcross meet and placed 11th in the 3,00-meter steeplechase at the Big South Outdoor Championships.
Hughes is a graduate transfer from Rochester, where he earned second-team All-Liberty League honors as a member of the distance medley relay that placed second at the indoor conference championships. He finished third and recorded a personal-best time, 9:33.22, in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2023 RIT Invitational. In high school, Hughes helped lead his team to the 2018 Section VI Class B Cross Country title.
Pahnke of McFarland, Wisconsin, is a graduate transfer from Emory. During the 2022 cross country season, he finished 19th overall at the NCAA DIII South Region Championships and advanced to the national championships. Pahnke placed 19th in the 5,000 meters in the UAA Outdoor Championships and recorded a personal-best time of 15:08.02 in the event at the Flames Invitational. He prepped at McFarland, where he was the state runner-up in cross country and the 800 and 1,600 meters and helped lead his high school to three cross country sectional titles.
Two-time first-team All-American Bliven prepped at West Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. He was named first-team all-conference and first-team all-state in cross country in 2022. Bliven was a part of a cross country team that placed third at the state championships and fourth at the regional meet. In 2023, he was named all-state in three events—800 meters, 1,500 meters and 4×400-meter relay. Twice, he was the district champion in the 800 meters and was named West Salem Male Track Athlete of the Year in 2022 and 2023.
New Orleans, Louisiana, native DesRoches was the 2022 Louisiana state cross country champion. He is a two-time LHSAA 5A district champion and is ranked No. 2 all-time in state cross country history. In 2021, he was the runner-up at the LHSAA 5A District and State Championships. DesRoches won the district title in the 1,600 meters in 2023 and the district, region and state titles in the 3,200 meters in 2021. He was the top-ranked mile runner in Louisiana and is No. 3 in the state in the 1,600 meters in 2023. His prep bests include 4:16.03 in the mile, 9:08.70 in the 3,200 meters and 15:09.5 in the 5K (cross country).
Ford was the runner-up at the New York State Cross Country Championships and seventh at the NYS Federation Championships. He recorded a prep-best time of 9:21.43 and earned third place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NYSPHSAA state championships. In 2020, he won the Section 1 Dual Week 1 cross country meet and recorded a prep-best time of 14:52.0 in the 5K. The following week, he turned in a prep-best mark of 15:44.3 in the three miles. Ford is a native of Brewster, New York, and prepped at Brewster High School.
In his senior year, Scruggs, a native of Athens, Georgia, led his team to GHSA cross country and track and field championships as a team captain. He finished second individually at the Georgia state cross country championships and finished first as a member of the 4×800-meter relay and second in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the state track and field championships. While prepping at Athens Academy, Scruggs recorded prep-best times of 1:58 in the 800 meters, 4:18 in the 1,600 meters, 9:31 in the 3,200 meters and 15:59 in the 5K.