BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Fifth-year senior McKenzie Yanek won the individual title and led Vanderbilt women’s cross country to the overall team title at the Blazer Classic on Saturday at the Motevallo Cross Country Course. Senior Grace Jensen finished second, while the men finished fourth overall behind a runner-up finish from Matthew Estopinal.
“It was a great day,” head coach Althea Thomas said. “These results are the reassurance they needed before going into championship season. It helps them to remember they are good enough—and more than good, they are great runners.
“All we have done has led up to being able to show what we can do at conference and regionals,” Thomas said. “They have bought into holding each other accountable and know that when one gets better, we all get better.”
Next up for the Commodores are the SEC Championships on Friday, Oct. 29 in Columbia, Missouri.
The Vanderbilt women were dominant in their first 6-kilometer race of the season. The Commodores finished with just 42 points. In second place, New Orleans totaled 89 points.
Yanek (21:11.65) and Jensen (21:16.01) earned gold and silver, while senior Haley Walker also finished among the top-10 with an eight-place finish (21:49.60), and freshman Cameron Fawcett crossed in 13th place (22:01.33)
In her first race of the season, Niki Narayani scored for the Commodores in her return from injury with an impressive fifth-place team finish and 18th overall (22:17.46). She was followed by Gillian Mortimer (22:41.30) and sophomore Lainey Phelps (22:42.69) in 26th and 27th place, respectively.
In the men’s 8-kilometer race, Vanderbilt finished with 129 points as Estopinal was just eight seconds off the pace for the top spot en route to his silver medal finish of 24:31.39. Nick Laning was just five seconds behind his classmate for a fourth-place showing. Caleb Van Geffen (25:33.79) was 25th overall, freshman Philip Metcalf (26:07.24) was 44th and senior Jonah Bird (26:30.69) rounded out the scoring as the fifth Vandy runner across.
Corey Pacernick (26:31.26) was one spot behind Bird at 68th overall and was followed by a pair of freshmen in Zach Hodges (26:51.27) and Andy Niser (27:29.13).
“McKenzie (Yanek), Grace (Jensen), Pesto (Estopinal) and Nick (Laning) continue to be who they are as leaders of the team, and individually, they did a great job,” Thomas added. “And a big highlight was Niki (Narayani) racing for the first time and was already in our top five, and Corey (Pacernick) ran well after some nagging issues. For them to come back and get right back in the thick of things, be competitive and race how they did, was really promising.”
Be sure to follow Vanderbilt cross country and track and field programs on all social media platforms at @vandyxctrack.