Sept. 9, 2008
Vanderbilt's youthful yet talented distance runners were on full display during a cross country campaign that witnessed individual meet titles and the emergence of several solid first-year participants.
Head Coach Steve Keith continued his overhaul of the Vanderbilt cross country program. In his second year with the program, Keith mentored several freshmen into point-producing roles that signaled improved days ahead for Commodore harriers.
From the first meet to the NCAA South Regional Championships, it was evident that Keith's squad would depend on the success of several freshmen. For the most part, Keith's newcomers held their own.
Behind a pair of freshmen, Rita Jorgensen and Adrienne DiRaddo, and junior Carmen Mims, the youthful Commodores finished eighth in the SEC Championships and 11th at the NCAA South Regionals. The season resembled the campaign Keith anticipated when the squad gathered for summer conditioning.
"There was a lot to like about the season," Keith said. "We were extremely inexperienced starting out, then had some misfortune when senior Julie Eckerly was injured in a midseason race.
"We asked a lot of our first-year runners, but they came through and finished off the year on a good note. While you're never quite satisfied with the results, it sure sends a clear message that the future of Vanderbilt cross country is extremely bright. I am totally excited to watch the development of our squad," Keith added.
Quality youth was clear from the initial competition when Jorgensen and DiRaddo ran 1-2 for the Commodores in the Belmont-Vanderbilt Opener. By season's end, four of Vanderbilt's top six finishers at the NCAA Regionals were freshmen.
Jorgensen, a former Foot Locker Nationals competitor from Memphis, paced the Commodores. She was the team's top finisher in its first five meets.
After a fourth place overall finish at the Belmont-Vanderbilt Opener, Jorgensen provided further proof of her talent by notching an individual win in the Commodore Classic. Racing against an atypical strong field in the Vanderbilt home meet, Jorgensen took control midway through the Commodore Classic and cruised to the victory. Her time of 18:07 for the five-kilometer course was the second fastest ever by a Vanderbilt runner, trailing only Beth Van Dusen's 17:51 effort at the 1999 meet.
Besides the Commodore Classic win, Jorgensen ran 11th overall at the Colonial Inter-Regional Challenge, 35th at the highly competitive Chile Pepper Invitational and 31st at the SEC Championships. At the NCAA Regionals, Jorgensen ran second to DiRaddo among Commodores.
Though missing three weeks of training during the season, DiRaddo opened strongly, then finished on a high note at the NCAA Regionals with the team-leading 53rd place result.
Mims provided solid leadership and excellent results for the Commodores. Coming off a splendid yet exhausting 2007 outdoor track campaign, Mims finished among the top three Commodore runners in every meet. As the season endured, Mims moved up, posting second place finishes for the squad at the Colonial Inter-Regional Challenge, Chile Pepper and conference championships.
Eckerly's injury at the Colonial Inter-Regional adversely affected Commodore chances at the SEC Championships. Eckerly missed the final three meets after twisting a knee early in the Williamsburg competition.
Another senior, Val Kazmer, stepped forward in the wake of Eckerly's injury by finishing fourth and fifth on the squad at the SEC and NCAA meets, respectively. Sophomore Ellen Black was the only other returnee to score team points at a meet, finishing fourth among Commodores at the Chile Pepper Festival.
Freshmen Kate Southcote-Want and Carolyn Bell joined Jorgensen and DiRaddo in helping the Commodore cause. Southcote-Want finished fourth and fifth at the SEC and NCAA meets, respectively, while Bell was sixth at both closing competitions.