NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The 2011 Vanderbilt women's cross country team set their sights on making it to Nationals back in August when they first arrived on campus. Now, only one race stand in their way in what has been a record-breaking season--this weekend's NCAA South Regional race, held in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We're new to this," said head coach Steve Keith. "We're not going to try to get all fancy. We have to run the way we run normally, and any chance that we have to solidify our place in our competition's minds, we need to take advantage of that."
Vanderbilt has never had a team make it to nationals before, and since Nationals began in the 80s, have had only two runners make it based on individual results. One of them was in 1997, when Pamela Johnson finished 134th out of 180 runners. The other is current Commodore Jordan White, who finished 112th out of 255 runners in last year's meet.
"We are approaching it just like any other race. We want to run our best," said Keith. "Florida State is ranked number one and they're in our region. One point early in the second half of the race, Florida Sate will decide they need to not have any questions out there and dial it up. Our strength is the second half of the race as well."
"It's a bigger race. On the guy's side, there's a front, a middle, and a back, and we can find a better place for our team," said Keith. "It's always been a better opportunity for the guys to try to group up, and a 10K also, first 10K, which will be an interesting challenge as well."
The top two teams from each region receive automatic passage to the national championships, leaving 13 at-large bids that are decided between the third and fourth place finishers regionally by quality wins over other teams who automatically qualify.
While the Commodores could run simply to qualify safely--something they have a chance to do as long as they place in the top four--they plan to run like they did at the SECs.
"The second you start to play defense or start to protect, you're out of what you do normally. So we have to run our same race. We've got two good races in us still," said Keith.
The meet takes place on Saturday, November 12th. The women are ranked fourth overall in the nation by the USTFCCCA, behind No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Villanova, and No. 3 Colorado.