History Made at SEC's

Laning becomes men's cross country's first All-SEC honoree

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore Nick Laning became the second man in program history, and first in 53 years, to earn all-conference honors at the SEC Cross Country Championships on Friday as the Vanderbilt men finished 10th as a team and the women were sixth.

Ana Wallace was the second freshman woman to finish and earned All-SEC Freshman honors. She became the first Commodore to accomplish the feat since teammate Caroline Pietryzk did so in her rookie campaign in 2015.

“I’m proud of the way we competed,” said head coach Steve Keith. “They were not intimidated by the moment or the race. They were excited about it. We had been building momentum since team camp and it showed today.”

The men topped Auburn and Georgia and finished with 239 points – the fewest for the program in the 12-team era and the fewest overall since 1980. The women totaled 176 points and were just six points out of fourth.

On a chilly morning and wet course at Kentucky Horse Park, Laning was among the top 15 at the halfway point of the 8k race, but began to fade from the pack until the final kilometer.

“Around 1k, Coach Keith told me that I needed to get up with the pack that I was kind of falling off,” Laning said. “I knew I had to do it. I had to get those points for my team. So I made that move. I knew all other guys were making moves, too. I just pushed through and hammered the finish and grinded it out.”

Laning raced into 12th-place and finished in 23:21.8 to lead the Commodores. He is the first Vanderbilt man to garner All-SEC accolades since David Graeflin finished fifth in 1966.

“Coming into the season we had a goal of top 20 for Nick,” Keith added. “But the way he progressed during the season we believed he had a chance to be among those top 14, and that was a beautiful run for him. He earned it.”

Sophomore Matthew Esopinal was the second Commodore to cross the finish and placed 35th with a time of 24:03.7. He was followed by senior Harrison Thomas, who was 52nd overall at 24:24.7.

Also scoring for the men was junior Caleb Van Geffen, who was 71st at 24:45.7, and Jonah Bird, who was 89th at 25:20.7.

Sophomore Lucas Mowery was 98th (25:34.8), senior Andrew Levine was 102nd (25:51.8) and junior Edward Harpstead was 104th (26:02.5).

On the women’s side, sophomore Grace Jensen led the Commodores and was less than two seconds away from All-SEC honors. She placed 16th overall with a time of 20:47.9 in the 6k race.

Wallace earned her freshman accolades with a finish of 20:54.1 and placed 23rd overall in her first SEC Championship meet. Haley Walker was the third Commodore to cross and 38th overall (21:17.4), while junior Caroline Pietrzyk (46th, 21:24.3) and Reagan Bustamante (63rd, 21:42.2) also scored for the Commodores.

“Grace ran really well and put herself in the top 20, and Ana had a great second half of the race to pull into the top 25, but the team got too spread out,” Keith said. “When it comes down to six points, you always hate to be on the short side of those close scores, but that’s cross country sometimes.

Gillian Mortimer was 73rd overall (21:56.2), Anna Grace Morgan was 75th (21:59.9), Mailin Struck was 91st (22:20.2), Kendall Derry was 103rd (22:32.3) and Niki Narayani was 117th (23:01.3).

Next up for the Commodores is the NCAA South Regional in Tallahassee, Florida, Nov. 15.