'Dores finish 19th for second-best finish at NCAA Championships

Nov. 21, 2015

Results | Keith Interview | Riley Interview | Pietrzyk Interview

Event: NCAA Championships
Day, Date: Saturday, Nov. 21
Site: E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Ky.
Host: University of Louisville
Results: HERE

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LOUISVILLE, Ky.  Caroline Pietrzyk showed no signs of wilting under the spotlight of running in her first NCAA Championships.

Instead, all the freshman phenom did was write her name into the record books and lead the Vanderbilt women’s cross country team to its second-best finish in program history.

Racing in their fifth straight NCAA Championships, the Commodores finished 19th at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park for their best team finish since 2011. As she has done all season, Pietrzyk led the team, racing to 32nd – the highest individual NCAA finish in school history. She finished fifth among freshmen in the field and became just the second Commodore to earn All-American honors.

The race capped off a spectacular season for the Commodores, who entered ranked 19th in the country and on the heels of winning their second straight South Region championship. The top 20 finish at the NCAA Championships marks the program’s second-best finish. The 2011 squad finished sixth in the team’s first trip to nationals.

“It is real rewarding for them to have a good day at nationals,” head coach Steve Keith said. “Top 20 for us was a real goal this year. Super happy for the ladies. I thought they performed well in this environment.”

Pietrzyk had crossed the finish line first for the Commodores in all six previous races and Saturday was no exception.

In a deep and dense field with 355 runners, Pietrzyk was in 92nd place at the 2,000-meter mark. But the SEC Freshman of the Year from Malibu, Calif., chipped away, maneuvered around the field and gained 60 spots by the end of the 6,000-meter race.

“In the middle of race, she really set her mind to it,” Keith said. “I saw her around halfway through and she was low 50s. She kept moving up. She has a good head on her shoulders, trusts her fitness and is a great competitor.”

She finished with a time of 20:21.2 and became Vanderbilt’s first All-American since Alexa Rogers finished 39th in 2011.

“It is such an honor,” Pietrzyk said. “It was a great experience to be up there (at nationals) with the team and to race with all of these great competitors. I can’t describe it as anything more than just an honor because that is what it was. It was a great a race, and I loved it.”

Senior Vanessa Valentine finished second for the Commodores for the second straight race. After finishing eighth at South Region meet, she placed 105th with a time of 20:51.9, moving up 55 spots.

The trio of junior Carmen Carlos (148th, 21:11.9), freshman Sara Tsai (167th, 21:17.7) and senior Sara Barron (177th, 21:22.4) then finished 11 seconds apart to lock in the top 20 finish. Sophomore Maddie Criscione (214th, 21:49.5) and redshirt junior Lily Williams (221st, 21:59.0) rounded out the Commodores.

“We’re very excited,” associate head coach Rhonda Riley said. “We wanted top 20, and they executed. We’re extremely happy with the way everyone performed. They weathered the storm (early). Didn’t see as much of a pack but they definitely were within each other. They could see each other when they were running and that was key. Every race they have been cool, calm and collected.

“The seniors provide a lot of leadership and the freshmen are fearless. As a team, they handled the pressure of the national meet.”