Solid First Impressions

Men's and women's cross country opened the 2021 season and Althea Thomas era Friday

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A new era is officially underway for Vanderbilt men’s and women’s cross country. Friday marked the first meet of the 2021 season and the first under new director of cross country and track and field Althea Thomas as the Commodores finished fourth in the men’s race and third in the women’s race at the Mizzou Opener.

“All our focus for the first meet was to put us in a good position for later in the season,” Thomas said of the season opener. “Both teams accepted the assignment well and gave us more to evaluate and adjust their plan going forward. It was great to see how everyone raced, how they took instructions on a game plan, and how they worked together. They accepted the challenge against some potential national contenders, got the adrenaline going and we got to see their reactions in competition compared to the few practices we’ve had.”

In the men’s 6-kilometer race at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course, Vanderbilt totaled 103 points behind senior Matthew Estopinal’s 15th-place finish of 18:19.7, while the women were led by senior Grace Jensen‘s eighth-place showing (17:21.7) and finished with 74 points in their 5k race.

In the men’s race, senior Nick Laning ran alongside Estopinal most of the way and finished 18th (18:29.7). Estopinal’s final 1,000-meter split of 2:48 was the fastest in the field.

Fifth-year senior Caleb Van Geffen (18:58.4) ran with freshman Philip Metcalf (19:04.3) to 35th and 36th place, respectively, while senior Jonah Bird (19:15.7) was also in the scoring at 39th overall—just ahead of freshman Andy Niser who was 40th at 19:18.1 and freshman Zach Hodges who was 41st at 19:20.6. Mathew Ragsdale was 46th at 21:23.1.

“The men did really well executing the race plans they’ve worked on with Coach Porter,” Thomas said, “and Pesto (Estopinal) and Nick (Laning) are more ready than we assumed. They came out of summer in great shape and have a high ceiling.”

In the women’s race, graduate transfer McKenzie Yanek was 14th overall in her Commodore debut (17:36.2), followed by freshman Cameron Fawcett (17:41.5) who was 17th in her collegiate debut.

“Grace (Jensen) and McKenzie (Yanek) ran well and ran as leaders,” Thomas said. “We have some talent and they’ve all been working hard. It was good to see everyone out there executing their race plan fairly well. We have more to evaluate and know where we need to go in our training moving forward.”

Junior Haley Walker was 18th at 17:43.3 and sophomore Lainey Phelps (18:01.0) rounded out the scoring with a 24th-place finish. Freshmen Ella Lambert (26th, 18:08.2) and Julia Rosenberg (29th, 18:17.8) were among seven Commodores in the top 30.

Next up, Vanderbilt will host the Commodore Classic on Friday, Sept. 17 at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee. The men are set to start at 8:30 a.m. followed by the women’s race at 9:15 a.m. Admission is free.

Be sure to follow Vanderbilt cross country and track and field programs on all social media platforms at @vandyxctrack.