Aug. 30, 2011
Nashville, Tenn. -
As Vanderbilt’s men’s and women’s cross country teams prepare for their first meet on Friday, when they co-host the Belmont-VU Opener, sixth-year head coach Steve Keith said he’s most excited about the team chemistry and character of his tightly-knit, regionally-ranked teams.
Ranked third in the pre-season coaches’ poll for the South Regional, the women’s team also received votes in the national poll by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The men were ranked 14th in the South Regional.
“It’ll be two different teams, the guys and the girls,” said Keith, noting his men’s team is still developing. “On the guys’ side, we had the most talented freshmen group that we’ve ever had come in and they’re showing it right now.”
But for the women, Keith noted his team “put themselves up in that conversation last year (about winning the region). We thought we could, but we had never done it before. Now we’re just looking to take that next step. They’re not intimidated. They want to go for it.”
Amongst the girls returning to the team are seniors Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, Louise Hannallah, Erin McManus, and Alexa Rogers; juniors Allie Scalf, Jordan White, and Kristen Findley; and standout sophomore Liz Anderson.
With the addition of junior Kristen Smith, a transfer from Michigan State who helped her team qualify for the NCAA Regionals and finished as a top-25 at the NCAA Nationals, the upper classmen are the driving force behind the team.
White finished 112th of 255 runners at the NCAA Championships last fall—the best any Commodore has ever performed in the NCAA Championships. Doebel-Hickock, who holds the all-time record for Vanderbilt’s 10,000-meter event, set a new personal record in the indoor 3000-meter, clocking a time of 9:58.05.
Along with Rogers and Anderson, who each broke Vanderbilt records as they set new personal bests in distance events, the veterans’ experience and records illustrate their individual strengths.
But what it all comes down to is teamwork.
“There’s a good range from the 1,500 to the 5,000,” said Keith.” We’ve got a couple miler types, in Alexa and Jordan, Louise and Liz in the 5K, and Kristabel is definitely 5K or longer, and I’d say Kristin Smith is there. Allie is a steepler. They all kind of come together well. But I think our strength is really our ability to run together and run for each other rather than ourselves individually. That’s the sign of a real team.”
The teams gathered at Natchez Trace Park for a retreat before the season began to train and continue the tradition of team-building that Keith believes is so fundamental to his teams’ successes.
They’ll test that team chemistry Friday at Percy Warner Park at the Belmont-VU Opener, with the women’s 4000-meter starting at 5:30 p.m. CT and the men’s 5000-meter beginning at 6 p.m. CT.