Since returning to his alma mater in a coaching role, Steve Keith has helped lead Vanderbilt into national prominence in both cross country and track and field.
The Commodores earned the first ever SEC pole vault title and a first team All-America honor. Multiple records were broken during the 2018-19 season and the program is one of the best in recent years.
Vanderbilt had three NCAA First Team All-American honorees during the 2017 track & field season, including pole vaulter Sarah Bell, triple jumper Simone Charley and 800-meter runner Courtney Clayton. Charley secured her third consecutive indoor season First Team All-American recognition in 2017 with a leap of 43-8.00 in the triple jump, which was good for a seventh place overall finish. Bell and Clayton both earned First Team All-American honors during the 2017 outdoor season, marking the first time that the Commodores secured All-American status during the outdoor season since 2004, when Josie Hahn and Erika Schneble earned the distinction in the heptathlon and 5000-meter run, respectively. Clayton’s 800-meter time of 2:04.02 in the NCAA Finals set a new Vanderbilt school record and earned her a seventh place finish. Bell tied for eighth overall in the pole vault with a height of 13-7.25 (4.15m).
Keith also helped lead the Commodores to a successful season off of the track in 2017. Simone Charley was honored as a CoSIDA Academic All-American and Carmen Carlos named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team. Vanderbilt and the University of North Carolina were the only schools in District III to have more than one athlete named to the team. In order to qualify for the CoSIDA Academic teams, all athletes are required to have at least a 3.30 GPA and be an important contributor athletically for their team. Carlos, Caleigh Lofstead and Sarah Bell were also honored for their academic prowess by the USTFCCCA as members of the organization’s All-Academic Team.
Coach Keith was also instrumental in Vanderbilt hosting the 2017 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships for the first time in school history. From the first stages of planning for hosting the Championships, all the way to the execution of the event, Keith was involved in every facet of setting up the facility and hosting the 13 visiting SEC schools. The event saw 19 facility records, four world-leading performances, one American record and two collegiate records all broken.
During the 2016 cross country season, Keith led the Vanderbilt women to a top-three finish at the NCAA South Regional and Sara Tsai to an at-large berth in the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships with a sixth-place finish at the Regional and a time of 20:16.20. Tsai would go on to finish 57th overall in the Finals with a time of 20:34.40, which narrowly missed the All-American threshold by just 10 seconds. The Commodores had 16 cross country athletes named to the 2016 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.
Keith has guided the programs to unprecedented success, as evidenced by the Commodores’ back-to-back Top-15 showings in the USTFCCCA’s prestigious Program of the Year standings in 2015 and 2016. (In order to be eligible for the Program of the Year standings, teams must qualify for the NCAA Championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track).
Keith has served as the head cross country for the past 11 years, and has guided the Commodores to five consecutive berths in the NCAA Championships, beginning with the team’s first-ever appearance in 2011.
Keith was was named South Region Coach of the Year in 2014 after the Commodores claimed their first region title in program history, and earned the award again after the Commodores repeated as South Region champs in 2015.
Keith has also served as director of the track and field program for the past four seasons.
“I’m very familiar with the level of competition and caliber it takes to be at the top of the conference,” said Keith. “If you can be an SEC title contender then you can be at a top 10 national level and that is our goal. Our recruiting has been geared to building a contending program and we have seen significant progress toward this goal.”
The Commodores earned a spot in the Program of the Year standings for the first time in school history at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, claiming a No. 15 national ranking.
Vanderbilt then took it several steps further in 2015-16, moving up five spots and breaking into the Top 10 by earning a No. 10 ranking. The Commodores — who were the second highest-ranked SEC women’s team on the list, behind only No. 2 Arkansas — earned their spot in the rankings by finishing 19th in cross country, 25th in indoor track and 29th in outdoor track.
“It’s certainly rewarding to see our programs making an impact on a national level,” said Keith. “Now it’s just a matter of not only maintaining those standards, but improving on them.”
The Commodores have also continued to shine in the classroom during Keith’s tenure.
Both Vanderbilt cross country squads were once again named All-Academic Teams by the USTFCCCA last season, marking the 10th consecutive year that the men and women have each earned the honor. The Vanderbilt teams have made the list every season since Keith became head coach.
“This award shows our continued commitment to the classroom,” said Keith. “These student-athletes work incredibly hard in everything they do at Vanderbilt.”
Individually, the Commodores had five USTFCCCA All-Academic honorees: Carmen Carlos, Sara Tsai, Sara Barron, Caroline Pietrzyk and Vanessa Valentine.
With five representatives, Vanderbilt was tied for the most in the nation. The Commodores were one of only five teams, among the 205 teams that were honored, with five representatives on the list.
The Vanderbilt track team enjoyed another record-setting season in 2015-16, capped by sending two representatives — Simone Charley and Katherine Delaney — to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. It marked the first time time since 2004.
Other highlights during the 2015-16 track season included:
l Having nine athletes qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Regionals in a total of seven events — just one shy of the school record that the Commodores established in 2015.
l Having five individuals and one relay team break school records during the indoor season: Simone Charley (triple jump), Sarah Bell (pole vault), Jennifer Edobi (500), Katherine Delaney (1000), Sara Barron (mile) and the 4×800 relay team of Regan Anderson, Maddie Criscione, Delaney and Barron.
l Triple jumper Simone Charley produced another remarkable season that included being named first team All-American (indoor and outdoor), breaking her own school records at multiple meets, being invited to the U.S. Olympic Trials and representing the USA at the NACAC Under-23 Championships.
l Jennifer Edobi competed at the Olympic Trials in Sapele, Nigeria.
During the 2014-15 track campaign, Keith directed the Commodores to a record-setting season in outdoor track that included sending nine representatives to the NCAA Regionals to compete in a total of eight events.
Vanderbilt also made a splash during the indoor season, capping the year with a total of seven scoring performances — in six separate events — at the SEC Indoor Championships. The 2014-15 season also featured the continued rise of sophomore triple jumper Simone Charley, who earned First Team All-American honors during both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Following the 2014 cross country campaign, Keith was named South Region Coach of the Year after directing the Commodores’ women’s team to a benchmark season that included the program’s first-ever NCAA South Region Championship and a second-place finish at the SEC Championships.
Vanderbilt won the South Region title by beating two-time defending region champion Florida State by one point. Vanderbilt — which rose to a season-high No. 12-ranking in the USTFCCCA poll after the region title — advanced to the 2014 NCAA Championships, marking the team’s fourth straight appearance. Vanderbilt finished 28th at the Championships.
The 2014 cross-country regular season featured a series of impressive performances by the Vanderbilt women, including early-season victories at the Belmont Opener and the Commodores Classic.
The list has also included an eighth-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, followed by a sensational showing at the adidas Invitational in Wisconsin, where the Commodores tied for ninth and finished in front of 10 teams that were ranked in ahead of them in the USTFCCCA poll. Vanderbilt then earned a second-place finish at the SEC Championships, which represented the second-highest finish in the program’s history behind only the 2011 SEC championship team.
During the 2013-14 season, Keith guided the women’s cross country team to its third straight trip to the NCAA Championship and helped the track and field team continue to gain national exposure by having nine athletes qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary. The Commodores had representatives qualify in seven separate events, which was a new school record.
Keith also played an instrumental role in Simone Charley’s development as a track star during the 13-14 campaign. Charley had a breakout freshman season, earning Second Team All-American status with a ninth-place finish in the triple jump at the NCAA Championships. Charley also competed in the triple jump at the USATF Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where she broke her own school record and set a lifetime personal best with a mark of 43-2.50. She missed qualifying for the IAAF World Championships by just one centimeter while earning a third-place finish.
The ‘13-14 track team established a huge collection of new school records, led by the outstanding work of two freshmen stars — pole-vaulter Sarah Bell and Charley in the triple jumper. The season was capped with Vanderbilt having nine qualifiers for the NCAA Preliminary.
The ‘13-14 season also included the grand opening of the Commodores’ sparkling $31-million multipurpose indoor facility, which is now the home venue for Vanderbilt’s indoor track team. The facility features the Mondo Super X 720 300-meter track. Only four universities in the country have a track with that surface: Arkansas, Sacramento State, UCLA and Vanderbilt. Of those, Vanderbilt is the only indoor track with the Super X 720 — one of the fastest surfaces for indoor and outdoor track competitions.
In 2012-13, the women’s cross country program reached the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year, Brionne Williams earned All-American status in the indoor high jump and a program record 11 athletes qualified for NCAA action during the outdoor season.
The ‘12-13 season opened with the women’s cross country team returning to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year and the second time in program history. The team spent a majority of the season ranked and won the Belmont Opener and Commodore Classic, before placing third at the SEC Championships. Hannah Jumper earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors, placing seventh at the league meet, while Kristen Findley joined her on the All-SEC team. The Commodores then placed second at the NCAA South Regional.
The 2013 indoor track season saw the program’s first All-American since 2005 when Brionne Williams qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Williams finished 15th in the nation in the high jump, earning second team All-America honors.
The 2103 outdoor track season saw the program continue to grow, as 11 athletes qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round, the most in school history.
The 2011-12 campaign opened with the women’s cross country team taking the SEC title, with five Commodores finishing in the top nine. Alexa Rogers (second), Liz Anderson (fourth) and Jordan White (seventh) captured First Team All-SEC honors, while Louise Hannallah (eighth) and Kristen Smith (ninth) earned spots on the second team. Vanderbilt also placed three runners on the All-Freshmen team, as Grace Orders, Rebecca Chandler and Amira Joseph each earned top-30 finishes.
The Commodores went on to finish second at the NCAA South Regional, earning the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships. Vanderbilt placed sixth in the nation at the Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., with Rogers placing 39th and becoming the program’s first All-American.
For his efforts in 2011, Keith was named both the Southeastern Conference Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year and the NCAA South Region Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year.
The track season saw Orders earn her second SEC All-Freshman honors of the year, this time in the indoor 3,000 meters. That was followed by an outdoor season that sent six Commodores to the NCAA East Preliminary Round. Kristen Findley, who placed fourth in the 1,500 meters at the SEC Outdoor Championships and set a school record in the event, missed a trip to the NCAA Championships by .16 seconds, placing 13th.
Kristen Smith (5,000 meters), Meagan Martin (pole vault), Morgan Toone (pole vault), Ellie Tidman (high jump) and Brionne Williams (high jump) also qualified for NCAA Preliminary Round competition.
All told, Commodore runners set school records in four indoor events (1000 meters, mile, 3000 meters and distance medley relay), followed by two more school records during the outdoor season (1500 meters and the 4×1500 relay). In addition, there were a combined 54 runs for personal records during the two 2012 track seasons (20 indoor/34 outdoor).
As has become the standard for Keith’s teams, the performance in the classroom was just as impressive. Jordan White was named to the Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-District Team, while White, Liz Anderson, Louise Hannallah and Alexa Rogers were named to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic List.
In his first seven seasons with the Commodores, both the men’s and women’s cross country programs have earned All-Academic honors (with distinction) with team grade-point averages of at least 3.4.
The 2010-11 track campaign saw middle distance standouts Jordan White, Alexa Rogers and Liz Anderson become NCAA qualifiers. White (4:25.58) and Rogers (4:26.54) both qualified in the 1,500 meters and freshman Liz Anderson ran the 4th best time in school history (16:29.67) in the 5,000 just narrowly missing a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
During spring 2011, senior Rita Jorgensen ran a school record 800 meter time of 2:05.54 in qualifying for the NCAA Preliminary Round. Jorgensen finished off her stellar career scoring both indoors (mile/3rd) and outdoors (800 meters/5th) at the SEC Championships.
The fall of 2010 was a record-breaking season for Keith and the Commodore cross country team. The women finished third in the SEC and third at the NCAA South Regional, while having White and Jorgensen gain All-SEC honors. Newcomer Anderson was named to the All-SEC Freshman team.
The season was capped off with Jordan White becoming just the 2nd Vanderbilt individual to qualify for the NCAA Championships with her 10th place finish at the Region meet.
Keith is a Vanderbilt alum and was a cross country letterwinner from 1977-81. His professional experience includes Division I tenures at Alabama, Texas-El Paso and Georgia Tech.
Before arriving at Vanderbilt, Keith served five years as head women’s cross country coach at the University of Alabama. Keith mentored three members of the Crimson Tide women’s distance corps to All-SEC honors.
Prior to coaching in the SEC, Keith worked with distance runners at the University of Texas-El Paso, where he directed one of the nation’s leading distance teams. Coaching both men and women, Keith’s runners at UTEP included a pair of NCAA national individual champions and 22 All-America recipients. His top UTEP pupils included Svetlana Badrankova, Jim Svenoy, Carlos Suarez and Bashar Ibrahim.
At Georgia Tech, Keith mentored four All-Americans, including 1,500-meter standout Alan Drosky.
Keith started his collegiate coaching career at Emory University, serving as distance coach from 1983 to 1986. In his three years there, the men’s team qualified for NCAA D-III Cross Country Nationals finishing 20th, 19th and 17th with two individual All-Americans.