Women finish sixth at NCAA South Region Championships

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ­– Anchored by a strong performance by freshman Haley Walker, the Vanderbilt women’s cross country team finished sixth at the NCAA South Region Championships Friday.

The Commodores finished with 183 total points, and missed a top-five result to the Georgia Bulldogs by a mere 18 points. Vanderbilt was one of 30 teams competing at the meet.

Individually, Walker earned a spot on the All-South Region team with a 17th-place result among 208 runners. A product of Toronto, Canada, Walker finished the 6-kilometer race in 21:05.8. She missed an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships later this month in Wisconsin by nine seconds.

Vanderbilt head coach Steve Keith said the Commodore finish was close to what he expected from a squad that improved off an eighth-place result last year.

“We ran about where we thought,” Keith said. “It would have been nice to finish ahead of Georgia, but I was proud of how we competed. I feel bad that Sara (Tsai) was a little off but Haley came on nicely. Alena (Sapienza-Wright) also ran a big race.

“This team made a lot of progress this year and the future is bright. I think we’re showing good trajectory moving forward,” Keith said.  

Tsai, the team’s top runner all season, ran among a lead pack of 15 runners for the opening three kilometers, then started to labor during the second loop of the Apalachee Regional Park course. A 2016 NCAA Championship qualifier, Tsai held on for a 34th-place individual finish in 21:22.6.

Walker and Tsai were followed by Sapienza-Wright, redshirt junior Caroline Pietrzyk and freshman Grace Jensen. Other Commodores in the competition were sophomore Anna Grace Morgan and senior Devon Grisbaum.

Sapienza-Wright, a product of Louisville, Ky., continued her recent strong form. Like her freshman teammate Walker, Sapienza-Wright steadily moved up through the race, earning a 38th-place finish in 21:33. Pietrzyk, a former SEC Freshman of the Year who helped Vanderbilt to the 2015 South Region title, claimed 51st place in 21:42.8. Jensen, a freshman from Mobile, Ala., was just behind Pietrzyk in 53rd place with a time of 21:44.8.

NCAA South Region
Nov. 9, 2018
Tallahassee, Fla.

Team Results (Top 10)
1. Florida State 60. 2. Florida 64. 3. Ole Miss 87. 4. Georgia Tech 144. 5. Georgia 165. 6. Vanderbilt 183. 7. Tennessee 221. 8. Alabama 231. 9. Middle Tennessee 236. 10. Lipscomb 240.

Vanderbilt Individual Results
17. Haley Walker (Fr.)                 21:05.8
34. Sara Tsai (R-Jr.)                    21:22.6
38. Alena Sapienza-Wright (Fr.)  21:33.0
51. Caroline Pietrzyk (R-Jr.)        21:42.8
53. Grace Jensen (Fr.)                21:44.8
84. Anna Grace Morgan (So.)     22:29.4
90. Devon Grisbaum (Sr.)           22:38.8