Ready to defend

Oct. 24, 2012

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The time has finally come.

Ever since winning last year’s SEC Championship, the Vanderbilt women’s cross country team knew they would have the opportunity defend their title in 2012 on their home course.

On Friday, October 26, at 10:00 a.m., they will attempt to do just that when the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championships begin with the women’s 6K race at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park.

The Commodores enter the race led by the trio of Liz Anderson, Kristen Findley and Hannah Jumper.

Anderson is a junior who was Vanderbilt’s top finisher during the Commodore Classic in September. She finished the preview race in 21:08.80 to placed third overall and help Vanderbilt to a first-place team finish. Anderson is the top-returner from last year’s championship squad, having placed fourth at the 2011 championships.

Findley has emerged as a top runner for Vanderbilt this season following a breakout track campaign this spring. The senior’s top performance this year came at the Greater Louisville Classic. Findley finished sixth in a very deep field with a time of 16:59.26 and was the first Vanderbilt finisher.

Jumper has emerged during her redshirt freshman season, highlighted by a win at the Belmont Opener and a seventh-place finish at the Commodore Classic, both at Percy Warner.

“Our top three can run with anybody’s top three in the country,” said Vanderbilt Head Coach Steve Keith. “It’s really a matter of bringing in our four and five as competitive as possible. It’s pretty simple.”

For those fourth and fifth places, Vanderbilt certainly has the talent to have those spots score low.

Jordan White was a First Team All-SEC honoree a season ago, finishing seventh at the SEC Championships.

Senior Allie Scalf will be in the mix as well. Scalf was an SEC All-Freshman honoree in 2009 and had a solid sophomore season before illness kept her out for most of 2011.

The Commodores will also be looking to Rebecca Chandler and Grace Orders, both of whom were SEC All-Freshman honorees a season ago.

“We’ve got All-SEC girls that we hope will step up,” Keith said. “We’ve got some kids who’ve got some good experience and we’re hoping can step-up.”

The other plus for Vanderbilt is the opportunity to run on its home course.

“I think we’re going to have a ton of people out there,” Keith explained. “It’s going to be a real exciting atmosphere. Some home courses are pretty neutral, but ours has some little idiosyncrasies to it that can sort of distract you or make you work a little harder, so we’ll be used to it.”

As for the biggest roadblocks to Vanderbilt’s title defense, Keith believes Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky all come to Nashville with a chance to take home hardware.

“Seeing Arkansas four weeks ago (in Louisville) was a nice wake-up call for us,” Keith said. “Based on their ranking, they might be the favorite coming in. They tend to run in a little bit closer group, which is similar to what we’ve done, so we’re going to get a little bit of our own medicine.”

“Florida is going to be a very challenging team, as well, and Kentucky is going to surprise a lot of people,” Keith added. “It’ll be a nice four-way race.”

The cross county team is attempting to become the first Vanderbilt program to win back-to-back SEC championships since the women’s soccer team in 1993 and ’94.

The history of the SEC Cross Country Championships is on their side. Since 1990, every SEC women’s cross country champion has defended its title at least one time.

While the men’s team will not enter the SEC Championships with the same expectations as the women’s squad, the Commodores are still excited about the opportunity to run on their home course.

Led by sophomores John Ewing and Matthew Cleveland, the men’s team is peaking at the right time.

“At Evansville, we ran as well as a team and a group as we have all year,” Keith said. “They’re on a nice trajectory and they have a couple of goals as far as beating a few teams and using their home course advantage.”

Ewing led the Commodores to a fourth place finish at the Evansville Invitational in their last outing. He placed 15th with a time of 26:32.98.

Cleveland and Ewing were the top finishers at the Commodore Classic in September, placing 73rd and 94th, respectively. Cleveland clocked a time of 26:20.24, while Ewing finished in 26:43.08. Vanderbilt placed 17th, edging Georgia State and SEC foe LSU.

The men’s 8K race begins at 11:00 a.m.

Admission to both races is free. Visit the SEC Championships Home Page for directions, course maps and entries.